Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Name

Master of Science (M.S.)

Degree Granting Department

Marine Science

Major Professor

Steven A. Murawski, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Pamela Hallock Muller, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Sandra Brooke, Ph.D.


algae, coral, imaging, invertebrates, reef, sponge


As technologies advance the study of ocean dynamics, new approaches to vexing problems of scale and process are becoming more widely available. Originally conceived as a tool primarily for indexing the abundance of near-bottom fishes, the Camera-based Assessment and Survey System (C-BASS) may also be an effective tool for monitoring benthic invertebrate resources vulnerable to natural and anthropogenic perturbations, and for characterizing the composition of benthic communities to inform spatial management. Using still images derived from the C-BASS video of benthic transects within the Florida Middle Grounds, I documented the abundance of benthic habitat-forming functional groups—sponges, algae, and corals—and noted taxa that were present in a SCUBA and ROV study conducted a decade earlier. Images were pre-processed using MATLAB computer programming language to correct for light attenuation and scattering in seawater at depth, and examined using ImageJ software and Coral Point Count software or rapid visual assessment methodology to assess image quality and percent cover, respectively. Exploratory data analysis (dissimilarity profile) delineated five habitat types in the northern Florida Middle Grounds, and discriminating benthic cover was identified using similarity percentage analysis: soft corals, fleshy macroalgae, low-relief algae, encrusted rubble, and sand. Hard corals and sponges represented relatively low area cover. A canonical analysis of principle components of in situ environmental measurements, chlorophyll a, turbidity, salinity, slope, and depth highlighted the association of the sand habitat type with greater depths and least amount of slope. Fleshy macroalgae were associated with greater slope, which reflected its presence in transitional areas between sand and reef. Soft coral habitat type was correlated with shallower depths, but also to lower temperature and lower salinity, highlighting the limitations of one-time environmental measurements to the condition of that time and space. A distance-based redundancy analysis of fish species abundance revealed that sponges, soft corals, and hard corals explained some of the variation of Holocentridae spp., angelfishes, and porgy, and that gray snapper appeared to associate with higher measurements of chlorophyll a. A comparison of C-BASS measurements with a coincidental stationary camera survey revealed that a slight shift in view, either from the seafloor to the water column, or from two slightly different positions in the water column, can obscure or reveal benthic cover to varying degrees, suggesting that more imaging could provide more complete representations of the benthic cover. Continued surveys of the benthic composition of the west Florida shelf could elucidate the range of environmental conditions and facilitate further investigations into the fish species associations with biotic cover in these benthic communities.