The objectives of the proposed ESTCP project are to demonstrate, validate, and transition the results of a project funded under the Navy Environmental Sustainability Development to Integration (NESDI) Program that is developing the innovative Automated Benthic Ecology System (ABES).

In the proposed ESTCP project, ABES’s ability to obtain a wide-range of regulatory-required data in areas that would be difficult for human divers will be demonstrated. Researchers will demonstrate that ABES integrates automated image/scene data gathering, purposeful sensing and information analysis with distributed information management. The specific technical objectives of the proposed ESTCP project are: 1) to demonstrate that ABES can enhance the Department of Defense’s (DOD) benthic survey and monitoring protocols and 2) demonstrate a sampling protocol and technical transition plan for target users and collect cost and performance data for ABES. The efficacy of ABES will be assessed in the context of two applications: 1) assessment of overall benthic community structure on a man-made dock and its surrounding seafloor; and 2) the assessment of coral metrics on a man-made structure under National Marine Sanctuary oversight.

Technology Description

This technology integrates photomosaicing techniques and an environmental sensor suite onto an underwater remotely operated vehicle (ROV) that navigates with high Global Positioning System (GPS) accuracy while interrogating a vertical surface. The proposed work leverages several capabilities previously funded by a variety of sponsors:

  • an underwater ROV with tether.
  • a landscape photomosaicing technique.
  • a suite of environmental sensors.
  • 3-D modeling.


The direct benefit of this technology is that it can be used to identify and monitor benthic habitats, including threatened or endangered corals, at any military base where protected epibenthic resources are present and to provide archiveable, long-term time series data on trends in locations that are problematic to monitor currently. ABES offers:

  • A new capability that provides: (1) easy access to both vertical and horizontal areas not previously able to be assessed due to high costs or safety hazards; (2) accurate spatial measurements; (3) ability to monitor individual colonies without tagging; (4) superior data archival potential; (5) increased ability to assess and monitor the condition of benthic resources using multiple desktop analytical methods; and (6) provides a high quality visual means of conveying benthic condition to a stakeholder and/or regulator.
  • A reduction in costs because: (1) special biological training is not necessary for acquiring the video and stills; (2) reduced time in the water; (3) reduced risk of having a human in environments containing unexploded ordnance (UXO) to be scanned; and (4) improve operational risk management by reducing the need for divers in the water

Intangible benefits include, but are not limited to: (a) reduced manpower requirements by eliminating the need for human divers to conduct these types of assessments; (b) increased safety of fieldwork practices- by not having to put human divers in the water, thereby reducing the risk of accidents and/or mishaps; (c) use as a new best management practice for natural resources surveys by standardizing the methodology; and (d) increased quality over diver-swum photomosaics, allowing for improved logistics for natural resources surveys.

  • Demonstration ,

  • Habitat