Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Granting Department

Marine Science

Major Professor

David F. Naar


Adriatic Sea, fish aggregation, Gulf of Mexico, meltibeam, scouring, seafloor mapping


Artificial reefs are becoming a popular biological and management component in shallow water environments characterized by soft seabed, representing both important marine habitats and tools to manage coastal fisheries and resources. An artificial reef in the marine environment acts as an open system with exchange of material and energy, altering the physical and biological characteristics of the surrounding area. Reef stability will depend on the balance of scour, settlement, and burial resulting from ocean conditions over time. Because of the unstable nature of sediments, they require a detailed and systematic investigation.

Acoustic systems like high-frequency multibeam sonar are efficient tools in monitoring the environmental evolution around artificial reefs, whereas water turbidity can limit visual dive and ROV inspections. A high-frequency multibeam echo sounder offers the potential of detecting fine-scale distribution of reef units, providing an unprecedented level of resolution, coverage, and spatial definition. How do artificial reefs change over time in relation to the coastal processes? How accurately does multibeam technology map different typologies of artificial modules of known size and shape? How do artificial reefs affect fish school behavior? What are the limitations of multibeam technology for investigating fish school distribution as well as spatial and temporal changes? This study addresses the above questions and presents results of a new approach for artificial reef seafloor mapping over time, based upon an integrated analysis of multibeam swath bathymetry data and geoscientific information (backscatter data analysis, SCUBA observations, physical oceanographic data, and previous findings on the geology and sedimentation processes, integrated with unpublished data) from Senigallia artificial reef, northwestern Adriatic Sea (Italy) and St. Petersburg Beach Reef, west-central Florida continental shelf. A new approach for observation of fish aggregations associated with Senigallia reef based on the analysis of multibeam backscatter data in the water column is also explored.

The settlement of the reefs and any terrain change are investigated over time providing a useful description of the local hydrodynamics and geological processes. All the artificial structures (made up by water-based concrete for Senigallia reef and mainly steel for St. Petersburg Beach reef) are identified and those showing substantial horizontal and/or vertical movements are analyzed in detail. Most artificial modules of Senigallia reef are not intact and scour signatures are well depicted around them, indicating reversals of the local current. This is due to both the wind pattern and to the quite close arrangement of the reef units that tend to deflect the bottom flow. As regards to the St. Petersburg Beach reef, all the man-made steel units are still in their upright position. Only a large barge shows a gradual collapse of its south side, and presents well-developed scouring at its east-northeast side, indicating dominant bottom flow from west-southwest to east-northeast. While an overall seafloor depth shallowing of about 0.30 m from down-current deposits was observed for Senigallia reef, an overall deepening of about 0.08 m due to scour was observed at the St. Petersburg Beach reef.

Based on the backscatter data interpretation, surficial sediments are coarser in the vicinities of both artificial reefs than corresponding surrounding sediments. Scouring reveals this coarser layer underneath the prevalent mud sediment at Senigallia reef, and the predominant silt sediment at St. Petersburg Beach reef. In the ten years of Senigalia reef study, large-scale variations between clay and silt appear to be directly linked to large flood events that have occurred just prior to the change.

As regards the water column investigation, acoustic backscatter from fish aggregations gives detailed information on their morphology and spatial distribution. In addition, relative fish biomass estimates can be extrapolated. Results suggest that most of the fish aggregations are generally associated with the artificial modules showing a tendency for mid- and bottom-water depth distribution than for the surface waters.

This study contributes to understanding the changes in artificial reefs over time in relation to coastal processes. Moreover, the preliminary results concerning the water column backscatter data represents progress in fisheries acoustics research as a result of three-dimensional acoustics. They demonstrate the benefits of multibeam sonar as a tool to investigate and quantify size distribution and geometry of fish aggregations associated with shallow marine habitats.