HCNSO Student Theses and Dissertations

Defense Date


Document Type


Degree Name

M.S. Marine Environmental Sciences

First Advisor

Brian Walker

Second Advisor

David Gilliam

Third Advisor

Vladimir Kosmynin


Anthropogenic changes to the landscape, storm events and sea level rise are contributing to the erosion of beaches leading to an increase of the sediment load in near shore marine environments. Palm Beach, Florida is host to unique near shore hardbottom habitats. These areas are distinct from the vast expanses of surrounding sediments and play and important role of habitat and shelter for many different species. In this study, remotely sensed images from 2000-2015 were used to look at the movement of sediment and how it contributes to exposure rates of near shore hardbottom habitats in Palm Beach, Florida and how these factors affect the benthic community.

GIS was used to determine areas of hardbottom with high exposure (exposed in >60% of aerial images), medium exposure (40-60%), and low exposure (

I strived to determine if one can detect a successional relationship of benthic communities in a dynamic environment with annual mapping. I also examined if areas with higher exposure rates have more complex successive communities than those with lower exposure rates, and what implications this has on near shore benthic communities. In situ surveys conducted at 117 sites determined the community structure (corals, octocorals, macroalgae, and hydroids).

This study confirmed that periodic mapping was successful in identifying hardbottom burial and exposure, which fluctuate both spatially and temporally. This periodic mapping along with manual delineation did identify hardbottom burials and exposures that fluctuate between years and relate to benthic community differences. The near shore hardbottom coral reef communities aligned with the observed exposure categories with the greater coral species richness and octocoral morphologies found at sites classified as highly exposed. Statistical analyses showed differences in communities shallower and deeper than three meters’ depth. Increasing the frequency of imagery captures and in situ observation would further increase our comprehension of the metrics of hardbottom exposures in reference to community structure.