Written by James Ballard on June 10, 2014.
The hurricanes in the Gulf over the last decade and the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill disaster have underlined the fact that we need to establish baseline data on the vast array of artificial reef habitats in the Gulf of Mexico. By collecting and analyzing this much needed data, states will be able to accurately predict how new artificial reefs will function over time and characterize the spatial and temporal distribution of commercially and recreationally important species utilizing their artificial reef habitats. It will also permit them to compare how their artificial reef habitats are functioning compared to natural reefs. Furthermore, having a database of artificial reef habitat condition and the density and richness of the species that utilize them, will allow states to assess impacts to the habitat from future natural and man-made disasters.
To address this need for baseline data, the Gulf States Marine Fisheries Commission’s (GSMFC) Sport Fish Restoration Program Coordinator launched a pilot test of the Gulf Artificial Reef Monitoring and Assessment Program (GARMAP) and drafted this standardized monitoring protocol for the program. This protocol employs a multi-gear approach to fully assess the artificial reef habitat as well as the populations of fish utilizing it. The methodologies outlined in this protocol are modeled after those used in ongoing long-term monitoring programs on natural reefs in the Gulf of Mexico including the Southeast Area Monitoring and Assessment Program (SEAMAP – vertical line) and Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission – Fish and Wildlife Research Institute’s Fisheries-Independent Monitoring Program (FIM – chevron trap). These gears are also used by the National Marine Fisheries Service in the Gulf of Mexico for their reef fish monitoring program. Standardized gear types and protocols were used to allow for cross comparison of the data collected in this program with the data collected in the previously mentioned programs and to provide a statistically sound way to compare the function of artificial reef habitats across the Gulf of Mexico to each other and to that of natural reefs. The baseline data collected through this program would provide managers with the necessary information to make scientifically-based decisions about management of artificial reef habitats and the fish populations they support.
This standardized protocol outlines a multi-gear monitoring approach including side-scan/multi-beam sonar, vertical line, chevron fish traps, cameras, and water quality assessment. I would like to extend a special thanks to SEAMAP and the Florida FIM program for allowing me to use their single gear protocols to develop the methodologies in this document. By doing so, it ensures that all programs monitoring reef habitat in the Gulf of Mexico are employing comparable gear types and procedures.