Acoustic Telemetry Validates a Citizen Science Approach for Monitoring Sharks on Coral Reefs
Citizen science is promoted as a simple and cost-effective alternative to traditional approaches for the monitoring of populations of marine megafauna. However, the reliability of datasets collected by these initiatives often remains poorly quantified. We compared datasets of shark counts collected by professional dive guides with acoustic telemetry data from tagged sharks collected at the same coral reef sites over a period of five years. There was a strong correlation between the number of grey reef sharks (Carcharhinus amblyrhynchos) observed by dive guides and the telemetry data at both daily and monthly intervals, suggesting that variation in relative abundance of sharks was detectable in datasets collected by dive guides in a similar manner to data derived from telemetry at these time scales. There was no correlation between the number or mean depth of sharks recorded by telemetry and the presence of tourist divers, suggesting that the behaviour of sharks was not affected by the presence of divers during our study. Data recorded by dive guides showed that current strength and temperature were important drivers of the relative abundance of sharks at monitored sites. Our study validates the use of datasets of shark abundance collected by professional dive guides in frequently-visited dive sites in Palau, and supports the participation of experienced recreational divers as contributors to long-term monitoring programs of shark populations.