In this section, we generally describe some of the protocols that span all sampling platforms. Further detail on each of these is also provided in each chapter, as it is specifically relevant to a given sampling platform.
There are several overarching issues related to sampling design across all marine sampling platforms (e.g. randomisation, efficient designs, and uncertainty). We strongly encourage users of any field manual contained in this package to read Chapter 2 to familiarise themselves with these issues.
Prior to undertaking any marine survey, researchers are responsible for ensuring appropriate applications for permission are lodged, with subsequent relevant approvals obtained and documented. A list of potential permissioning documents relevant to marine sampling in Commonwealth waters are listed in Appendix A.
Risk assessments not only help quantify potential risks associated with planning and field activities, they can help make fieldwork safer and reduce costs. They may also be a requirement for some organisations. It is recommended that a risk assessment is completed during the survey planning phase and again prior to the commencement of fieldwork for any of the sampling platforms included in this manual:
- Planning risk assessment. The assessment during the planning phase identifies risks and mitigation strategies associated with attaining appropriate equipment, staff, finances and other resources. In addition, it should include potential reasons survey objectives may not be met. This provides an opportunity to develop contingency plans and prioritise objectives.
- Fieldwork risk assessment. This assessment identifies risks associated with onboard activities, including safety hazards, equipment damage or loss, inclement weather, and any other aspect that may compromise budget, survey objectives, or crew health and safety. There will be some overlap with the risks identified in the planning phase, but this risk assessment should explicitly address onboard risks. This provides an opportunity to ensure the survey is compliant with workplace health and safety issues, as well as optimising the potential for successful data acquisition.
Quality assurance and control
These field manuals define quality assurance (QA) as measures adopted before and during data acquisition, while quality control (QC) are measures adopted after data acquisition. Specifically QA represents the processes necessary to support the generation of high quality data and QC represents the follow-on steps that support the delivery of high-quality data, requiring both automation and human intervention_. _The documentation of the QA/QC process is arguably just as important as data acquisition itself. The QA/QC process can affect data analysis and interpretation (e.g. observer bias in marine imagery in Durden et al. 2016b), and it is thus an integral part of standardisation to facilitate comparisons between datasets (Lara-Lopez et al. 2017). The appropriate methods for QA/QC depends on the data type (e.g. multibeam, underwater imagery, biological specimen). As such, further details on QA/QC are included in each field manual in the Data Release sections.
Data discoverability and accessibility
All marine metadata and data should be publicly released so that it is discoverable and accessible to the public, unless circumstances require otherwise (e.g. confidentiality clause or embargo for commercial work). Even in situations when data cannot be shared, the metadata should be made available so that future surveys are based on informed decisions about existing sampling locations. Refer to Stocks et al. (2016) for further information on appropriate information management including useful advice on data quality control and data sharing. Data can be licensed with the Creative Commons BY license which attributes the author but allows for free use of the data, including commercial applications. Some agencies may prefer to restrict commercial applications based on their data in which case Creative Commons BY-NC should be used.
Discoverable and accessible data contribute the following potential benefits to scientific, commercial, environmental, and social endeavours:
- Increased citations, media attention, and public engagement opportunities for researchers (McKiernan et al. 2016);
- More collaboration, funding, and job opportunities for researchers (Popkin et al. 2019);
- Larger and more useful datasets to address regional, national, and international issues (e.g. Cinner et al. 2020);
- Faster and more accurate development of analytical tools to inform important and emerging scientific and management questions (Zipkin 2019);
- Enabling artificial intelligence developments to improve the cost-efficiency of biodiversity monitoring_ _(OzFish Dataset).
- Stronger capability to monitor environmental changes and develop appropriate management plans, including expedited capacity to appropriately respond to natural disasters (Donner et al. 2017);
- Increased potential for industry and commercial application of data products and information (e.g. Carroll et al. 2012);
All field manuals, excluding the manual on survey design, include a section titled “Data Release,” which describes ways to ensure public discoverability and accessibility of collected data, thereby abiding by the FAIR (findable, accessible, interoperable, reusable) principles (Wilkinson et al., 2016). In the first version of the field manuals, these sections did not provide a clear national standard and instead refer to anticipated improvements in subsequent versions. This vagueness was due to the current lack of established national data infrastructure able to incorporate appropriate or comprehensive information produced from the sampling platforms.
To meet these challenges related to data discoverability and accessibility, a series of workshops were held in the months following the field manuals release (July – September 2018, July 2019), including focused workshops on bathymetry data, marine imagery, and biological specimen data. The bathymetry data release protocols are dependent on new digital infrastructure being developed as part of the AusSeabed program (www.ausseabed.gov.au). In contrast, marine imagery and biological specimen data are linked to existing digital platforms (Squidle+, GlobalArchive, OBIS Australia, Atlas of Living Australia) so priorities are to establish appropriate workflows linking these platforms with the data collection phase, and to find the resources needed to ensure they can be developed and maintained. Further recommendations the discoverability of marine imagery and biological specimen data can be found in the relevant workshop reports (Przeslawski et al. 2019c,d).
Regardless of the challenges described above, the appropriate methods for release of marine data depend on the data type (e.g. multibeam, underwater imagery, biological specimen). As such, further details on data management (including accessibility and discoverability) are included in each field manual in the Data Release sections.
A post-survey report is highly recommended within a year of survey completion. Such a report is valuable documentation of the survey objectives, methods, and preliminary results. It is especially important because it is a single resource describing the multiple methods and data often acquired from a given survey, and it provides overarching context to a survey that is not found in the associated metadata or data. Many agencies have their own post-survey report template, and we have also included one with suggested headings and content in Appendix B for reference.