Jackson Estuarine Laboratory


Towed underwater video has become a widely used method for bottom habitat mapping in coastal waters, but very little has been published on this relatively new and effective approach. We use a case study on two oyster reefs to illustrate the pros and cons of towed video, visualization techniques, and future research topics. Towed video is deployed in similar fashion to single-beam sonars, yielding narrow swaths of video imagery that are recorded concurrently with global positioning system (GPS) data for georeferencing. The major advantages over acoustic (sonar) methods are that image processing and interpretation are relatively simple, and there is little or no need for subsequent ground-truthing. The system used in the present study consists of an underwater black and white camera mounted on a steel frame, differential GPS unit, and digital video camera for recording. It was assembled from off-the-shelf items, and total cost was approximately $3500 (2006 US$). The imagery from both study reefs was of sufficient quality to allow classification of the surveyed bottom into three categories: nonreef, low-density shell, and high-density shell. Some reef characteristics such as the amount of vertical relief were easily discernable and showed substantial differences between the two reefs. Reef bottom areal coverages determined from the video imagery compared well with recent previous studies on the two reefs using other methods. Water clarity limitations represent the major obstacle to widespread use of video for routine mapping of oyster reefs. Turbidity–image quality relations remain to be quantified.

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Journal Title

Journal of Coastal Research



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This is an article published by BioOne in Journal of Coastal Research, in 2008, available online: