Remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) provide a non-extractive approach to characterizingfish communities in complex habitats. Despite the demonstrated effectiveness of ROVs in studying reef fishes over natural hard-bottomand small artificial reefs,there has been little application ofthis technology to larger artificial structures (10s ofmtall and wide).We exploredtheutility ofROVs inrapidly characterizing anassemblage of fishes associated with an artificial reef complex in the western Gulf of Mexico (26.9–28.2◦ N; 95.5–97.0◦ W) dominated by partially removed and toppled oil and gas platforms. This study reports on an efficient method to sample these structures, where we integrated depth-interval transect (DIT) and continuous roving transect (CRT) protocols to document fish distribution and community structure on 14 artificial reef sites. Consistent withprevioushydroacoustic studies, southTexas artificial reefs exhibited a vertically heterogeneous distribution of fishes that varied with structure orientation. These reefs were dominated by economically important lutjanids and carangids, both of which presented sampling challenges due to their patchy distribution around these vast structures. The non-uniform distribution and mobility of these dominant taxa highlight the utility of adopting roving approaches to assess fish communities on these complex structures. We conclude our study with a discussion of important logistical challenges associated with micro-ROV surveys in deepwater habitats, and potential complementary approaches to assist documentation of demersal fishes inhabiting a persistently turbid bottom layer.
USA - Gulf of Mexico
Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV)