Optical imaging of coral reefs and other benthic communities present below one attenuation depth, the limit of effective airborne and satellite remote sensing, requires the use of in situ platforms such as autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs). The Seabed AUV, which was designed for high-resolution underwater optical and acoustic imaging, was used to characterize several deep insular shelf reefs of Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands using digital imagery. The digital photo transects obtained by the Seabed AUV provided quantitative data on living coral, sponge, gorgonian, and macroalgal cover as well as coral species richness and diversity. Rugosity, an index of structural complexity, was derived from the pencil-beam acoustic data. The AUV benthic assessments could provide the required information for selecting unique areas of high coral cover, biodiversity and structural complexity for habitat protection and ecosystem-based management. Data from Seabed sensors and related imaging technologies are being used to conduct multi-beam sonar surveys, 3-D image reconstruction from a single camera, photo mosaicking, image based navigation, and multi-sensor fusion of acoustic and optical data.
Overall benthic (groups)
Autonomous Underwater Vehicle (AUV)