Producing thematic coral reef benthic habitat maps from single-beam acoustic backscatter has been hindered by uncertainties in interpreting the acoustic energy parameters E1 (tail of 1st echo) and E2 (complete 2nd echo), typically limiting such maps to sediment classification schemes. In this study, acoustic interpretation was guided by high-resolution lidar (LIght Detection And Ranging) bathymetry. Each acoustic record, acquired from a BioSonics DT-X echosounder and multiplexed 38 and 418 kHz transducers, was paired with a spatially-coincident value of a lidar-derived proxy for topographic complexity, reef-volume (RV), and its membership to one of eight benthic habitat classes, delineated from lidar imagery, ground-truthing, and characterization of epibenthic biota. The discriminatory capabilities of the 38 and 418 kHz signals were generally similar. Individually, the E1 and E2 of both frequencies differentiated between levels of RV and most habitat classes, but could not unambiguously delineate habitats. Plotted in E1:E2 Cartesian space, both frequencies formed two main groupings: uncolonized sand habitats and colonized reefal habitats. E1 and E2 were significantly correlated at both frequencies: positively over sand habitats and negatively over reefal habitats, where the scattering influence of epibenthic biota strengthened the E1:E2 interdependence. However, sufficient independence existed between E1 and E2 to clearly delineate habitats using the multi-echo E1:E2 bottom ratio method. The point-by-point calibration provided by the lidar data was essential for resolving the uncertainties surrounding the factors informing the acoustic parameters in a large, survey-scale dataset. The findings of this study indicate that properly interpreted single-beam acoustic data can be used to thematically categorize coral reef benthic habitats.
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Vol. 2009 • No. 10053