Assessment of Fish Communities Associated with SC Permitted Artificial Reef Sites with Comparable Natural Hard Bottom Sites by South Carolina Aquarium Volunteer Recreational Divers
Since the South Carolina Aquarium (SCA) opened in 2000, the community of SC recreational SCUBA divers has routinely volunteered to perform various diving tasks essential to the cost-effective operation of the SCA as a private not-for-profit organization. For the safety of these divers and to minimize SCA liability risks, these volunteer SC divers are required to operate under the auspices and specific diving guidelines of the SCA. Consequently, the SCA currently supports a group of over eighty (80) volunteer divers that start with a minimum training level of advanced certification in recreational SCUBA diving. These divers then progress to acquiring AAUS certifications including skills and experience to conduct visual underwater fish assessment surveys (e.g. identification and counting of fish species). Therefore, on behalf of this group of SC recreational divers and in collaboration with the SCDNR’s Marine Resources Division (MRD) Artificial Reef Program staff, the SCA is proposing research to improve the understanding of fish assemblages associated with man-made structures within SC permitted artificial reef (PAR) areas and comparable natural hard bottom (HB) areas using trained volunteer divers with the support of SCA’s diving resources. This proposed cooperative fisheries research using recreational SCUBA divers will benefit fishery resource managers by cost-effectively improving the understanding of fishery resources while stimulating beneficial public awareness of these resources as well as enhancing the SCA’s capacity to educate various audiences regarding these resources and conduct future fisheries research in cooperation with the SC recreational diving community, fishery management agencies and other stakeholder groups.
The goal of this project by cooperating SCA volunteer divers is to improve the resource management-oriented understanding of fish assemblages associated with man-made structures (artificial reefs) within PAR areas and comparable HB areas while considering the influences of reef location and depth. This cooperative fisheries research goal is congruent with the pre-proposal priority topic "…to examine the importance of variables such as: depth, location, construction materials, age, or productivity on an artificial reef versus comparable natural hard bottom areas." In cooperation with the MRD’s SC Artificial Reef Program staff, this project goal will be achieved by accomplishment of the following objectives:
- Train AAUS certified SCA cooperating volunteer divers to conduct advance visual underwater fish assessment surveys (e.g. identification and counting of fish species) for this project and possible future fish assessment projects.
- Using cooperating recreational divers with advanced visual fish assessment skills (See Objective 1), collect and analyze scientific observations on the composition, seasonality, estimated relative abundance, and size groups of various fish species (assemblages) associated with selected man-made structures within PAR areas off of Charleston, SC, at two different locations relative to the SC coast and depth strata (Y-73 and Charleston 60’), and one comparable natural offshore HB site (The Gardens).