Reef Fish Habitat Mapping

Underwater view of coral reef

About the image: The top row represents side-scan sonar imagery of essential natural reef-fish habitats. The bottom row comprises video imagery from corresponding habitats.


The Fisheries-Independent Monitoring (FIM) program at FWRI is tasked with providing comprehensive, reliable data on the reef-fish populations and their habitats of the eastern Gulf of Mexico. These data are critical to augment traditional single-species stock assessments and to facilitate a transition to ecosystem-based approaches for managing the living marine resources here in the State of Florida.

The availability of detailed benthic habitat information in the Gulf of Mexico is extremely limited, creating a major challenge for effectively sampling reef-fish populations. To solve this problem, in 2010 the FIM program began actively developing their own benthic habitat maps using side-scan sonar (Klein 3900, dual channel operated at 445 kHz), and through 2018, approximately 7,000 km2 of the seafloor of the eastern Gulf has been mapped. Sonar surveys focused on locating essential natural and artificial reef-fish habitats are conducted from a wide variety of research and chartered vessels throughout the Gulf. These data are post-processed in the lab and brought into a GIS environment for rigorous habitat classification. The resulting habitat maps contain a wide variety of information that is used to guide the precise deployment of fisheries monitoring equipment, including stationary underwater video cameras and hooked gear. These data have been and will continue to be used to more accurately assess red snapper, gag, red grouper, gray snapper and many other reef-fish that are both critical to the ecosystem and economy along Florida’s Gulf Coast.