The Florida Keys Coral Reef Monitoring Project is a large-scale, many-investigator project funded by the EPA and designed to assess the status and the movements of Florida's offshore reefs, patch reefs, and hardbottom communities over a 5-year period. The Project provides the first real opportunity in the Florida Keys to address the question of whether and how the reefs are changing at the spatial scales required to detect large-scale patterns and discriminate between hypotheses. Station installation for the Florida Keys Coral Reef Monitoring Project required a year of field work. Our EMAP sampling protocol resulted in the selection of 9 hardbottom reefs, 10 patch reefs, and 23 offshore reefs distributed throughout the Upper, Middle, and Lower Florida Keys in a stratified random design. We are sampling a total of 42 reefs, each with 4 video units, for a total of 168 video units providing a total coverage of 5,040 m2 in area recorded by video.Video transects are taken with a Hi8 camera held vertically 40 cm above the reef surface; images are then framegrabbed from videotape and written to CD-ROM for data archiving and image analysis. We are now writing 120 overlapping framegrabbed images per transect (20,000 images per year for the project) to compact disk (CD); of these, a randomly selected non-overlapping set of images will be analyzed for percent cover of scleractinians and other organisms and substrate categories by a random dot overlay procedure. Since the monitoring and analysis program is on a large geographic scale and involves multiple investigators and labs in 3 different states, we needed to automate as many sequences as possible to ease the work load and to insure consistency among labs. To help handle the image analysis tasks, we have developed a software program called PointCount for Coral Reefs (authors: Dr. Ouida Meier, Mr. James Leard, and Dr. Phillip Dustan). PointCount is a Visual Basic program designed to drive Image-Pro Plus by Media Cybernetics, and has made it possible to analyze the huge number of underwater images we are collecting.
The PointCount program calls up an image file (we are using .jpg and .tif formats) into Image-Pro from CD-ROM. The image is displayed and a unique random point array (stored on CD with each image) is automatically overlaid on the image, and the coral species or biotic or abiotic category underneath each point is identified. The next image file and random point overlay are called up, and the new data set is automatically appended to the larger data file.
All identifications, data, and metadata associated with each point in each image are automatically saved to a comma-separated value (text) file. The data resulting from analysis therefore is complete, compact, accessible by any lab, can easily be sent over the internet among our labs, and can be readily accessed by virtually any spreadsheet or statistical analysis program.
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