The benthic habitat of the Qatari nearshore marine environment plays a significant ecological role and environmental service. Areas of coral help provide protection and sustenance for a vast array of fish species and marine invertebrates, and represent a significant proportion of biodiversity in the region. Seagrass meadows which are prominent in northern Qatari waters are important to charismatic species such as the Hawksbill turtle and dugongs. Stands of macroalgae and even areas of coral rubble provide additional habitat for many marine species. These features, particularly the coral structures, also provide shoreline protection from high energy wave events and storm surges. As such, improving our understanding of these habitats as well as the need to protect and conserve the nearshore Qatari environment is a focus area for local researchers and regulatory authorities. Traditionally, the nearshore marine environment has been studied through intensive field measurement and monitoring. While valuable for collecting detailed site-specific information, this approach can be very resource intensive and also limiting in the scale at which habitats can be quantified and monitored for change. One way to address this is through remote sensing, which has been widely used around the globe to study and monitor benthic habitat cover. For example, data obtained from satellite imagery has been used to classify benthic habitats and in various coral reef remote sensing applications. In this paper, a framework is discussed for the remote sensing mapping of sensitive habitats in the Qatari nearshore marine environment, including field data collection and analysis. A case study from northeastern Qatar is highlighted, focusing on spring 2015 efforts to test the framework particularly for the purposes of mapping coral and seagrass habitats. Results suggest this approach may be a viable option for identifying sensitive areas in the region and monitoring longer-term ecosystem health under natural and anthropogenic stressors in a more safe and cost-effective manner. Limitations and lessons learned will be discussed as well as recommendations on the application of this approach to coastal environmental risk assessment and management planning in the State of Qatar.


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  • Received: 07 December 2015
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