Effective ecosystem-based management requires estimates of abundance and population trends of species of interest. Trend analyses are often limited due to sparse or short-term abundance estimates for populations that can be logistically difficult to monitor over time. Therefore it is critical to assess regularly the quality of the metrics in long-term monitoring programs. For a monitoring program to provide meaningful data and remain relevant, it needs to incorporate technological improvements and the changing requirements of stakeholders, while maintaining the integrity of the data. In this paper we critically examine the monitoring program for the Australian fur seal (AFS) Arctocephalus pusillus doriferus as an example of an ad-hoc monitoring program that was co-ordinated across multiple stakeholders as a range-wide census of live pups in the Austral summers of 2002, 2007 and 2013. This 5-yearly census, combined with historic counts at individual sites, successfully tracked increasing population trends as signs of population recovery up to 2007. The 2013 census identified the first reduction in AFS pup numbers (14,248 live pups, -4.2% change per annum since 2007), however we have limited information to understand this change. We analyse the trends at breeding colonies and perform a power analysis to critically examine the reliability of those trends. We then assess the gaps in the monitoring program and discuss how we may transition this surveillance style program to an adaptive monitoring program than can evolve over time and achieve its goals. The census results are used for ecosystem-based modelling for fisheries management and emergency response planning. The ultimate goal for this program is to obtain the data we need with minimal cost, effort and impact on the fur seals. In conclusion we identify the importance of power analyses for interpreting trends, the value of regularly assessing long-term monitoring programs and proper design so that adaptive monitoring principles can be applied.
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