Nicole Palma

Document Type

Internship Report

Publication Date

Fall 2016


The South Florida/Caribbean Network (SFCN) is an Inventory and Monitoring Program within the National Park Service designed to track trends in vital signs of the National Parks natural resources. Marine benthic communities, and specifically coral reefs, are the number one vital sign for the SFCN. Traditional methods of measuring coral reef health and ecological functions, like the chain-and-tape method and 2D image assessments are inadequate for accurately capturing and quantifying the structural complexity of corals. The advent of a revolutionary, low-cost, user-friendly photogrammetric technique called Structure-from-Motion (SfM) photogrammetry allows for the creation of spatially accurate 3D models with little user expertise or expenditure. This project explored how SfM photogrammetry could be used within the SFCN to enhance or replace the SFCN’s current methods for the inventory and monitoring of coral reef ecosystems. Three-dimensional models were created of a survey site located in Dry Tortugas National Park during a coral disease outbreak in July and September of 2016. Using the models, the 2D and 3D surface area of diseased coral colonies was determined and compared over time. The 2D surface area of active margins and recent mortality increased from 315.24 cm2 419.55 cm2, and from 920.50 cm2 to 8,218.52 cm2, respectively. The 3D surface area of active margins and recent mortality increased from 459.49 cm2 to 525.17 cm2, and 1,226.07 cm2 to 12,765.19 cm2, respectively. Using SfM photogrammetry can improve our understanding of underwater ecosystems’ health, functioning, and resilience, as well as contribute to their improved monitoring, management, and conservation by providing spatially accurate 3D models in which researchers can quantify a variety of metrics. Some of the metrics that can be determined via 3D modeling include: surface rugosity and complexity, surface area and volume of healthy and diseased coral, as well as species richness and growth rates over time. This project was the first of its kind within the National Park Service’s Inventory and Monitoring Program and may lead to improved data collection techniques as well as increases in the amount and types of information that can be obtained and shared with Park visitors as an outreach and educational tool via 3D photos and videos, 3D printed models, or virtual reality.


Division: MES

MPS Track: ECS

Location: National Park Service

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