Habitat loss is a serious issue threatening biodiversity across the planet, including coastal habitats that support important fish populations. Many coastal areas have been extensively modified by the construction of infrastructure such as ports, seawalls, docks, and armored shorelines. In addition, habitat restoration and enhancement projects often include constructed breakwaters or reefs. Such infrastructure may have incidental or intended habitat values for fish, yet their physical complexity makes quantitatively sampling these habitats with traditional gears challenging. We used a fleet of unbaited underwater video cameras to quantify fish communities across a variety of constructed and natural habitats in Perdido and Pensacola Bays in the central northern Gulf of Mexico. Between 2019 and 2021, we collected almost 350 replicate 10 min point census videos from rock jetty, seawall, commercial, public, and private docks, artificial reef, restored oyster reef, seagrass, and shallow sandy habitats. We extracted standard metrics of Frequency of Occurrence and MaxN, as well as more recently developed MeanCount for each taxon observed. Using a simple method to measure the visibility range at each sampling site, we calculated the area of the field of view to convert MeanCount to density estimates. Our data revealed abundant fish assemblages on constructed habitats, dominated by important fisheries species, including grey snapper Lutjanus griseus and sheepshead Archosargus probatocephalus. Our analyses suggest that density estimates may be obtained for larger fisheries species under suitable conditions. Although video is limited in more turbid estuarine areas, where conditions allow, it offers a tool to quantify fish communities in structurally complex habitats inaccessible to other quantitative gears.
Marine and Environmental Sciences
Recommended publisher citation: Baker, R.; Bilbrey, D.; Bland, A.; D’Alonzo, F., III; Ehrmann, H.; Havard, S.; Porter, Z.; Ramsden, S.; Rodriguez, A.R. Underwater Video as a Tool to Quantify Fish Density in Complex Coastal Habitats. Diversity 2022, 14, 50. https://doi.org/10.3390/d14010050