Sidescan sonar has been applied in a number of shallow water environments along the Dutch coast to map and monitor shellfish and seabed habitats. The littoral setting of these surveys may hamper data acquisition flying the towfish in zones of turbulence and waves, but also offers valuable opportunities for understanding, interpreting and validating sidescan sonar images because of the ability to ground-truth during low water periods, enabling easy identification and validation. Acoustical images of some of the mussel banks on the tidal flats of the Wadden Sea, recorded at high tide, show a marked resemblance with optical Google Earth images of the same banks. These sonar images may thus serve as 'acoustic type signatures' for the interpretation of sonar patterns recorded in deeper water where ground-truthing is more difficult and more expensive. Similarly, acoustic type signatures of (Japanese) oyster banks were obtained in the estuaries in the southwest of the Netherlands. Automated acoustic pattern recognition of different habitats and acoustical estimation of faunal cover and density are possible applications of sidescan sonar. Both require that the backscattering observed on the sidescan sonar images is directly caused by the biological component of the seafloor. Filtering offers a simple and effective pre-processing technique to separate the faunal signals from linear trends such as emanating from wave ripples or the central tracks of the towfish. Acoustically estimating the faunal density is approached by in-situ counting peaks in backscattering in unit squares. These counts must be calibrated by ground-truthing. Ground-truthing on littoral mussel banks in the Wadden Sea has been carried out by measuring their cover along lines during low tide. Due to its capacity of yielding full-cover, high resolution images of large surfaces, sidescan sonar proves to be an excellent, cost-effective tool for quantitative time-lapse monitoring of habitats.
- benthic habitat