Comparative assessment of seafloor sampling platforms

The Australian Marine Parks are the largest network of marine protected areas in the world, and their establishment means that Australia is now tasked with managing an area almost 3.3 million km2. In addition, Australia has the third largest exclusive economic zone in the world, with an extensive geographic area on which to report for State of Environment. The vastness of Australia’s marine estate means that appropriate, efficient, and comparable sampling methods are crucial to meet management and reporting obligations.

The overarching objectives of environmental monitoring are to assess condition and detect trends, and numerous marine sampling platforms exist to acquire data to meet these needs. It is daunting to consider all marine sampling platforms in the context of a single monitoring program and to ensure that the most appropriate methods are used for a given purpose. There is thus a need to synthesise and compare these platforms as they relate to the design and implementation of monitoring programs.

The purpose of the current study is to describe and comparatively assess common seafloor sampling platforms. We do this by conducting a qualitative assessment and comprehensively reviewing the available literature to identify their potential limitations and advantages. For the purposes of this report, marine sampling platforms include those that acquire seafloor data using underwater equipment or methods. We focus on sampling platforms near (i.e. demersal) or at (i.e. benthic) the seafloor because the habitat and associated biota targeted by these platforms are usually fixed and can be revisited, making them well-suited to monitoring activities.