Scoping report: Comparative assessment of benthic sampling platforms

Marine monitoring of Commonwealth reserves requires sampling of biological and environmental factors over space and time in order to assess status and detect trends. There is a huge range of methods used to sample benthic biota and environments, some of which are frequently used and well-established (Hopkins 1964), and others that are new or contentious (Rhoads et al. 2001). For biological sampling at the seafloor, sampling methods can be broadly grouped into destructive epifaunal samplers (sleds, trawls, dredges), destructive infaunal samplers (grabs, corers,), and non-destructive samplers (imagery systems) (Bowden et al. 2015). There is also a range of acoustic methods that can be used to map the seafloor (multibeam sonar, sidescan sonar, single-beam sonar) (Brown et al. 2011). Although these usually don’t provide biological data, they are the foundation for monitoring activities in large regions, as they facilitate extensive and precise descriptions of physical habitat. A number of established protocols for marine sampling exist for various regions, habitats, and objectives (reviewed in Coggan et al. 2005) and have been nationally standardised and implemented for shallow Australian waters (e.g. Reef Life Survey (Stuart-Smith et al. 2017) and pelagic megafauna (e.g. Animal Tracking Facility). It can be daunting to consider all marine sampling platforms in the context of a monitoring program and to ensure that the most appropriate methods are adapted for a given purpose. There is thus a need for a synthesis of benthic marine sampling platforms as they relate to the design and implementation of monitoring programs.

As part of the NESP Project D2 (‘Standard Operating Procedures for survey design, condition assessment and trend detection’), this scoping report will provide the basic framework for a subsequent report comparing benthic marine sampling platforms, including their suitability for use with different monitoring objectives. A complementary scoping report exists for pelagic platforms (Bouchet et al. 2017).

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