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Artificial reefs are commonly used as a management tool, in part to provide ecosystem services, including opportunities for recreational fishing and diving. Quantifying the use of artificial reefs by recreational boaters is essential for determining their value as ecosystem services. In this study, four artificial–natural reef pairs in the eastern Gulf of Mexico (off western Florida) were investigated for boat visitation rates using autonomous acoustic recorders. Digital SpectroGram (DSG) recorders were used to collect sound files from April 2013 to March 2015. An automatic detection algorithm was used to identify boat noise in individual files using the harmonic peaks generated by boat engines, and by comparing the sound amplitude of each file with surrounding files. In all four pairs, visitation rates were significantly higher at the artificial reef than the natural reef. This increase in boat visitation was likely due to actual or perceived increased quality of fishing and diving at the artificial reefs, or to lack of knowledge of the presence or locations of the natural reefs. Inshore reefs ( < 15 m depth) had high variability in monthly visitation rates, which were generally highest in warmer months. However the seasonal signal was dampened on offshore reefs ( > 25 m depth). This study appears to be the first to use acoustic data to measure participant use of boating destinations, and highlights the utility of acoustic monitoring for the valuation of this important ecosystem service provided by artificial reefs.

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PLoS One, v. 11, issue 8, art. e0160695