Implementing the protocols developed through UVNSW has as an underlying principle the fact that assessment and monitoring methods must ensure UVGs produce reliable data, while harnessing and enhancing their local knowledge of possible causes of environmental issues. Thus the protocols are tailored to meet clear, achievable research, educational and stewardship goals.

Community-based research linking UVGs with dedicated members of government agencies and university researchers can provide a strong model for the establishment and maintenance of robust, scientifically credible community assessment and monitoring undertakings.

A network of committed UVGs depends on human, technical and financial support and the inspiration and encouragement provided by meeting other UVG members and learning about local successes in following up on issues that cause concern.

The success of long-term assessment and monitoring programs depends upon:

  • management by a steering committee composed of members from the community, government agencies and tertiary institutions (and ideally the private sector);
  • long-term funding that enables the program to be conducted;
  • input from scientific expertise in data collection and interpretation procedures;
  • certificates of participation for individual members and community UVGs to recognise and acknowledge their contribution to the understanding and management of NSW marine waters;
  •  providing feedback to UVGs of the outcomes of the analyses of the data they collect – this recognises the strong interest by individuals in the outcomes of the assessment and monitoring programs;
  • a mechanism for the development and maintenance of a good communication program for both the UVGs and the wider community; and
  • engagement of local, state and federal politicians by UVGs.

Quality Control (QC) is a system of routine technical activities, to measure and control the quality of data – its collection and analysis, which results from the conduct of a protocol.

A QC system is designed to:

  • provide routine and consistent checks to ensure data integrity, correctness, and completeness;
  • identify and address errors and omissions; and
  • document and archive inventory material.

Quality assurance (QA) can be defined as the guarantee from a review team that the entire study was adequately and correctly conducted and recorded according to the study protocol. Reviews, preferably by independent third parties, should be performed upon a finalised program of assessment and/or monitoring following the implementation of QC procedures.

A QA/QC Plan is designed to meet the following objectives:

  • outline the procedures the program will use to ensure that data collection, analysis, storage, and management are of high quality;
  • provide a means by which the quality of information produced can be maintained throughout the project, and
  • provide a sound basis for documenting, evaluating and verifying the accuracy of results of project activities.

The QA objectives for collection and measurement of data include:

  • Representativeness: The extent to which measurements actually depict the true environmental condition or population being evaluated;
  • Completeness: A measure of the number of samples you must take to be able to use the information, as compared to the number of samples you originally planned to take;
  • Precision: The degree of agreement among repeated measurements of the same characteristic on the same sample or on separate samples collected as close as possible in time and place; and
  • Accuracy: The measure of confidence in the measurement. The smaller the difference between the measurement of a parameter and its “true” or expected value.

A central tenant of the UVNSW initiative is standardisation through the use of state-wide protocols. Regardless of the UVNSW protocol being used by UVGs, standardisation ensures that comparability between sites and through time can be undertaken. The development of standard templates for data collection and handling is driven by:

  • the development of appropriate protocols to meet the capacity of community groups to undertake assessment and monitoring programs;
  • the compilation of species lists/debris categories that can be readily recognised and monitored by members of UVGs, and yet at the same time provide information that will illuminate an environmental issue;
  • the delivery of training resources to assist members of UVGs to understand the assessment and monitoring protocols; and
  • the needs and capacity of community groups to undertake data management. In this context, a web-based data system provides for ease of data entry. This information can then be accessed by all UVGs, government agencies and researchers.

Initial training of members of UVGs should be delivered by a trainer who is familiar with the standard protocols. Importantly, this person should be a good communicator who can readily engage with members and has an excellent knowledge of not only the marine environment in general but more specifically the issues and biota that are the subject of the protocols.

It is anticipated that this approach will reduce inconsistencies in data collection that may arise from volunteers teaching volunteers. Further, involvement by a professional working in the marine sciences will help members recognise that there is an investment in the data they will be collecting as being important and thus needs to be collected accurately.

Training is designed to ensure best practice when selecting appropriate monitoring sites, aid in species/debris identification, and the appropriate management of collected data.

Further, the trainer can provide UVGs with information re. monitoring materials including the manufacture of slates, data sheets and other equipment, the positioning of transects and the most appropriate reference material.  Additionally, the trainer can play a valuable role in providing feedback to the volunteers, both during and post-training sessions.

UVNSW recognises that within many UVGs there are members who are already experienced in conducting research activities in sub-tidal environments. Furthermore, some members are currently working professionally in the marine sciences or possess a high order of knowledge about marine systems/biota. It’s anticipated that these members will be targeted as trainers. Thus after the initial training program has been conducted further training opportunities within each UVG will be conducted by one or more of these individuals, i.e. the capacity of individuals within UVGs will be increased through not only the participation of members of a group in conducting sub-tidal activities but also by providing the opportunity for individuals to take on the responsibility of providing high-quality training to members of their UVG.

Mentoring by the more experienced members of an UVG is also integral to the success of the program. Divers will always be undertaking research activities as a member of a buddy pair. It is our strong recommendation that dive leaders create buddy pairs such that the members of the pair have varying levels of experience. Thus one member will be acting as a mentor, the less experienced member will be ‘learning on the job’ – not only will the standardised methods be reinforced but so too will good diving behaviours. An exception to this may be when a fish inventory or marine debris survey is undertaken in deeper water that requires both members of a buddy pair to be ‘experienced’ divers.

Dive leaders have the responsibility of allocating members to buddy pairs. Each member of a pair must understand their responsibilities during the conduct of an actual survey. The protocols require that one member of a buddy pair act as the recorder. In this context (they have other duties to undertake in addition to acting as a recorder) they must ensure that they enter the data legibly. It’s important to make sure that all values, codes and text are carefully written on the datasheet.

Although you might think that you will remember exactly what your scribble means at the time you write it, it can sometimes be a considerable time between writing in the values and when they are transcribed into the online databases provided for data entry. Take the extra time to make sure that all the values and notes are legible, not only for you, but also for anyone else who might need to gain access to the data.  It’s also the responsibility of the dive leader to collect the datasheets from each of the buddy pairs at the conclusion of the survey. At that point, the dive leader should read each of the sheets and if any information is missing, or writing illegible, then the recorder will be required to rectify the situation.