The basis for this work was the nearshore benthic habitats maps (less than 100 ft depth) created by NOAA's Biogeography Program in 2001 and NOS' bathymetry models. Using ArcView GIS software, the digitized habitat maps were stratified to select sampling stations. Sites were randomly selected within strata to ensure coverage of the entire study region. The habitat stratification was divided into three major habitat types: hardbottom which includes reef, pavement, etc. inside STEER; softbottom which consists of sand and seagrass, and mangrove. In addition, two harbottom areas outside STEER of interest to STEERs Core Team were included as a separate stratum. Using standardized protocols of NOAAs Coral Reef Ecosystem Monitoring Project, the fish and benthic habitat survey was conducted by two scientific divers. During each dive one diver quantified the species and size of fish within a 25 x 4 m transect while a second diver characterized the habitat and invertebrate community.
Data are collected on the following: 1) Logistic information - diver name, dive buddy, date, time of survey, site code, transect bearing.
2) Taxa presence - as the tape roles out at a relatively constant speed, the diver records all fish species to the lowest taxonomic level possible that come within 2m of either side of the transect. To decrease the total time spent writing, four letter codes are used that consist of the first two letters of the genus name followed by the first two letters of the species name. In the rare case that two species have the same four-letter code, alternate four-letter codes are used to distinguish between the species. These alternate codes contain the first two letters of the genus, the first letter of the species and then the first letter in the species name that differs from the other code. If the fish can only be identified to the family or genus level then this is all that is recorded. If the fish cannot be identified to the family level then no entry is necessary.
3) Abundance & size - the number of individuals per species is tallied in 5cm size class increments up to 35cm using visual estimation of fork length. If an individual is greater than 35cm, then an estimate of the actual fork length is recorded.
4) Photos - individuals too difficult to identify or unique in some manner may be photographed for later clarification.
Data Caveats: Due to water quality concerns and low visibility, a portion of Mangrove Lagoon and Benner Bay were excluded from the study area. In addition, extra precautions were taken in the area where the ferries traverse.