My MSc research project was undertaken with the aim of highlighting the importance of the orange stony cup coral, Astroides calycularis, while assessing its distribution and health status within British Territorial Gibraltar Waters. The first aim of the project was to produce a robust baseline data set and develop a framework for future rapid ecological assessments on underwater 3D structures and reefs. This framework was devised to be a standardised, cheap, and effective transferable protocol for monitoring other benthic species. In order to do this, a critical literature review was carried out to systematically evaluate current monitoring protocols and programs across the globe.
Based on the literature, the photo-quadrat method was selected and thoroughly tested in order to finalise the monitoring technique used. During the months of April to June 2022, several dives were conducted on the west coast of Gibraltar to assess the distribution of the stony coral and evaluate potential study sites. The sites chosen were Batty’s Barge, an artificial reef within Camp Bay and Seven Sisters, a rocky reef in the north of Rosia Bay’s Marine Conservation Zone. Within the project’s data collection section, several dives were carried out at both sites to collect data on A. calycularis. Citizen divers were recruited to test and trial the usability of the monitoring protocol which also aided in increased sample collection, generating a larger baseline dataset on the stony cup coral within Gibraltar.