The primary objective of the reef fish survey program at the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) Panama City Laboratory is to collect video based assessments of the relative abundance of reef fish populations and a general overview of the habitat classification and composition to provide scientific data to the Southeast Fisheries Science Center (SEFSC) for Southeast Data, Assessment, and Review (SEDAR) stock assessments. To conduct more effective and cost efficient reef fish surveys, the reef fish survey program also collects side scan sonar data to map the benthic terrain of the Gulf of Mexico and identify reef hard bottom regions, which provide essential habitat for reef fish. As an intern within this program, I have assisted with the field and office work to collect, enter and analyze the data from these both of these surveys while focusing my project on the classification and mapping of side scan data. My primary objective was to classify the side scan imagery into standardized “geoform” classifications, agreed upon by the Panama City Lab and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission’s Fish and Wildlife Research Institute (FWRI)’s collaborative mapping efforts throughout the Gulf of Mexico. Once completed, the overall goal would then be to determine spatial trends among reef hard bottom sites and the respective geoforms throughout the survey region. Correlating this side scan data with data collected from the reef fish survey would then allow me to determine species distributions and species-habitat correlations, helping to initiate the possibility of ecosystem based management (EBM) and the development of better survey design.
Walters, Jennifer, "Mapping trends in reef hard bottom and key SEDAR species throughout the Gulf of Mexico as a means to establish better survey design and determine essential fish habitat." (2016). Internship Reports (Restricted). 2.