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Development and application of a video-mosaic survey technology to document the status of coral reef communities


The recent decline in the condition of coral reef communities worldwide has fueled the need to develop innovative assessment tools to document coral abundance and distribution rapidly and effectively. While most monitoring programs rely primarily on data collected in situ by trained divers, digital photographs and video are used increasingly to extract ecological indicators, provide a permanent visual record of reef condition, and reduce the time that divers spend underwater. In this study, we describe the development and application of a video-based reef survey methodology based on an algorithm for image registration and the estimation of image motion and camera trajectory. This technology was used to construct two-dimensional, spatially accurate, high-resolution mosaics of the reef benthos at a scale of up to 400 m2. The mosaics were analyzed to estimate the size and percent cover of reef organisms and these ecological indicators of reef condition were compared to similar measurements collected by divers to evaluate the potential of the mosaics as monitoring tools. The ecological indicators collected by trained divers compared favorably with those measured directly from the video mosaics. Five out of the eight categories chosen (hard corals, octocorals, Palythoa, algal turf, and sand) showed no significant differences in percent cover based on survey method. Moreover, no significant differences based on survey method were found in the size of coral colonies. Lastly, the capability to extract the same reef location from mosaics collected at different times proved to be an important tool for documenting change in coral abundance as the removal of even small colonies (<10 cm in diameter) was easily documented. The two-dimensional video mosaics constructed in this study can provide repeatable, accurate measurements on the reef-plot scale that can complement measurements on the colony-scale made by divers and surveys conducted at regional scales using remote sensing tools.

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Correspondence to Diego Lirman.

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Lirman, D., Gracias, N.R., Gintert, B.E. et al. Development and application of a video-mosaic survey technology to document the status of coral reef communities. Environ Monit Assess 125, 59–73 (2007).

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  • Benthic surveys
  • Image motion
  • Reef condition
  • ROV
  • Video mosaics
  • Video surveys