Assessing Anchor Damage on Coral Reefs: A Case Study in Selection of Environmental Indicators

Elizabeth A. Dinsdale, Vicki J. Harriott

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

66 Citations (Scopus)


Because environmental conservation can remove scarce natural resources from competing uses, it is important to gain support for conservation programs by demonstrating that management actions have been effective in achieving their goals. One way to do this is to show that selected significant environmental variables (indicators) vary between managed and unmanaged areas or change over time following implementation of a management regime. However, identifying indicators that reflect environmental conditions relevant to management practices has proven difficult. This paper focuses on developing a framework for choosing indicators in a coral reef habitat. The framework consisted of three phases: (1) information gathering to identify candidate variables; (2) field-testing candidate variables at sites that differ in intensity of human activity, thus identifying potential indicators; and (3) evaluating potential indicators against a set of feasibility criteria to identify the most useful indicators. To identify indicators suitable to measure the success of a management strategy to reduce anchor damage to a coral reef, 24 candidate variables were identified and evaluated at sites with different intensities of anchoring. In this study, measures that reflected injuries to coral colonies were generally more efficient than traditional measures of coral cover in describing the effects of anchoring. The number of overturned colonies was identified as the single most useful indicator of coral reef condition associated with anchoring intensities. The indicator selection framework developed here has the advantages of being transparent, cost efficient, and readily transferable to other types of human activities and management strategies.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)126-139
Number of pages14
JournalEnvironmental Management
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2004
Externally publishedYes


  • Anchor damage
  • Coral reefs
  • Indicator selection
  • Management evaluation


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