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The Global ARMS Program is a Smithsonian Institution initiative hosted at the National Museum of Natural History in Washington DC. The program centralizes and makes available information and documentation on the ARMS and standardized processing protocols. The program curates a database of worldwide ARMS deployments that can be searched freely on the ARMS portal.


The ARMS (Autonomous Reef Monitoring Structures) are passive collectors used to sample marine understudied cryptofauna. Similarly to settlement plates, ARMS are deployed on marine substrates and colonized by marine species. Because of their three-dimensional structure, mimicking the complexity of hard bottom marine substrates, they attract both encrusting species (corals, algae, etc.) and motile organisms (crustaceans, mollusks, polychaetes, etc.). The key innovation of the ARMS is their ability to sample marine communities over precisely the same area and in the exact same manner providing a standardized and quantifiable biodiversity measure. This sampling repeatability is a great asset to answer varied research questions: monitoring of diversity over time, exploring the effects of marine protected areas on the recovery of biodiversity, or quantifying human impacts. Combined with today’s powerful molecular methods such as high throughput sequencing, they enable the study of microbial, prokaryotic and eukaryotic whole communities.


The ARMS were developed during the Census of Marine Life (CoML) international initiative. In an attempt to enhance global understanding of reef biodiversity, the CoML Census of Coral Reef Ecosystems (CReefs) team, led by Nancy Knowlton (Scripps Institution of Oceanography, University of California San Diego and the National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution), Julian Caley (Australian Institute of Marine Science) and Russell E. Brainard (Coral Reef Ecosystem Division, NOAA) were to conduct a taxonomically diversified global census of coral reef ecosystems, increase tropical taxonomic knowledge, increase access to and exchange of coral reef data dispersed throughout the world and develop new, universal protocols that would standardize our approach to marine biodiversity study.


Since the Census of Marine Life, the ARMS project has expanded on a global scale and the ARMS have been adopted as a key biodiversity assessment tool by NOAA's National Coral Reef Monitoring Program' (NCRMP) and Ocean Acidification Program's climate monitoring stations in the Pacific. NOAA has played a central role in developing ARMS deployment and processing protocols and training material.


As an expanding project, the ARMS are attracting a wide range of international institutions working on a wide variety of projects.

  • The NSF funded Coral Triangle PIRE project is a multi-institutional project that aims at elucidating biodiversity patterns in the global epicenter for marine biodiversity and understanding the effects of pollution on marine communities.
  • The NSF funded ocean acidification project based at the Smithsonian Institution and in collaboration with the Australian Institute of Marine Science is investigating the reef associated communities along a natural pH gradient in Papua New Guinea
  • The Smithsonian based DROP program (Deep Reef Observation Project) is exploring coral reef diversity patterns to depth of 200 meters
  • The Marine Global Earth Observatory (MarineGEO) is employing ARMS as long-term measurements of changing environments and living community responses


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