Friday, April 19, 2024

Satellites Unveil The Size And Nature Of The World’s Coral Reefs

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Researchers have found that there is more coral reef area across the globe than previously thought, with detailed satellite mapping helping to conserve these vital ecosystems.

Dr. Mitchell Lyons from the University of Queensland’s School of the Environment, working as part of the Allen Coral Atlas project, said scientists have now identified 348,000 square kilometers (134,364 square miles) of shallow coral reefs, up to 20-30 meters (66-98 feet) deep:

“This revises up our previous estimate of shallow reefs in the world’s oceans. Importantly, the high-resolution, up-to-date mapping satellite technology also allows us to see what these habitats are made from. We’ve found 80,000 square kilometers [30,888 square miles] of reef have a hard bottom, where coral tends to grow, as opposed to soft bottom like sand, rubble or seagrass.

“This data will allow scientists, conservationists, and policymakers to better understand and manage reef systems.”

A shallow coral reef in Fiji. (Image Credit: Chris Roelfsema)
A shallow coral reef in Fiji. (Image Credit: Chris Roelfsema)

More than 1.5 million samples and 100 trillion pixels from the Sentinel-2 and Planet Dove CubeSat satellites were used to capture fine scale detail on a high-resolution global map.

Lyons said:

“This is the first accurate depiction of the distribution and composition of the world’s coral reefs, with clear and consistent terminology.

“It’s more than just a map — it’s a tool for positive change for reefs and coastal and marine environments at large.”

A shallow coral reef in Fiji. (Image Credit: Chris Roelfsema)
A shallow coral reef in Fiji. (Image Credit: Chris Roelfsema)

UQ Associate Professor Chris Roelfsema said the reef mapping project, a collaboration with more than 480 contributors, is already being used in coral reef conservation around the world:

“The maps and associated data are publicly accessible through the Allen Coral Atlas and Google Earth Engine, reaching a global audience. “They’re being used to inform projects in Australia, Indonesia, the Timor and Arafura Seas, Fiji, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Vanuatu, Panama, Belize, Bangladesh, India, Maldives, Sri Lanka, Kenya and western Micronesia.

“The details provided by these maps empowers scientists, policymakers and local communities to make informed decisions for the preservation of our coral reefs.”

A screenshot of the Allen Coral Atlas in action, highlighting key data off Western Australia
A screenshot of the Allen Coral Atlas in action, highlighting key data off Western Australia

The Allen Coral Atlas was conceived and funded by the late Paul Allen’s Vulcan Inc. and managed by Arizona State University along with partners from Planet, the Coral Reef Alliance and the University of Queensland.

Check out the Allen Coral Atlas here.

The UQ team on Heron Island, Australia.
The UQ team on Heron Island, Australia.
John Liang
John Lianghttps://www.deeperblue.com/
John Liang is the News Editor at DeeperBlue.com. He first got the diving bug while in High School in Cairo, Egypt, where he earned his PADI Open Water Diver certification in the Red Sea off the Sinai Peninsula. Since then, John has dived in a volcanic lake in Guatemala, among white-tipped sharks off the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica, and other places including a pool in Las Vegas helping to break the world record for the largest underwater press conference.

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