Seagrasses are flowering plants that develop into extensive underwater meadows and play a key role in the coastal ecosystem. In the last few years, several techniques have been developed to map and monitor seagrass beds in order to protect them. Here, we present the results of a survey using a profiling sonar, the Sediment Imager Sonar (SIS) and a towed video sledge to study a Zostera marina bed in the Solent, southern UK. The survey aimed to test the instruments for seagrass detection and to describe the area for the first time.
On the acoustic data, the bed produced the strongest backscatter along a beam. A high backscatter above the bottom indicated the presence of seagrass. The results of an algorithm developed to detect seagrass from the sonar data were tested against video data. Four parameters were calculated from the SIS data: water depth, a Seagrass Index (average backscatter 10–15 cm above the bed), canopy height (height above the bed where the backscatter crosses a threshold limit) and patchiness (percentage of beams in a sweep where the backscatter 10–15 cm above the bed is greater than a threshold limit). From the video, Zostera density was estimated together with macroalgae abundance and bottom type. Patchiness calculated from the SIS data was strongly correlated to seagrass density evaluated from the video, indicating that this parameter could be used for seagrass detection.
The survey area has been classified based upon seagrass density, macroalgae abundance and bottom type. Only a small area was occupied by a dense canopy whereas most of the survey area was characterised by patchy seagrass. Results indicated that Zostera marina developed only on sandy bottoms and was not found in regions of gravel. Furthermore, it was limited to a depth shallower than 1.5 m below the level of Lowest Astronomical Tide and present in small patches across the intertidal zone. The average canopy height was 15 cm and the highest density was 150 shoots m−2.