APR 24, 2019 5:18 AM PDT

New coral reef atlas provides a baseline for reef health

Coral reefs play a critical role on the planet. They are some of the most biodiverse biomes, providing food and habitat for about 25% of all marine life and acting as nurseries for both natural and commercial fisheries. They also act as a physical barrier to protect coastal inhabitants from storms, and 40% of the human population rely on coral reefs in this way.

But rising sea temperatures and ocean acidity from climate change are greatly impacting coral reefs. Currently, one-quarter of coral reefs are beyond repair and two-thirds of reefs are at risk of permanent damage in the near future. Scientists predict that if warming continues at the current rate, 90% of the reefs will be dead by 2050.

That’s what makes the recently published global coral reef atlas from the Khaled bin Sultan Living Oceans Foundation and University of Miami (UM) Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science so exciting. The atlas has over 65,000 square kilometers of maps of coral reefs and surrounding areas and scientists hope that it will act as a baseline for reef systems in a very turbulent time.

Using Earth-orbiting satellites and field observations from more than 1,000 remote coral reefs in 15 countries over 10 years, the team of scientists was able to develop high-resolution maps that show shallow water marine habitat in addition to information on the size of seagrass beds and mangrove forests. These components help the scientists determine if the health and resiliency of the studied reefs.

"Benthic habitat maps are an essential tool in coral reef conservation as they provide a snapshot of where reefs are located and the status of their health," said Alexandra Dempsey, the director of science management for the Khaled bin Sultan Living Oceans Foundation and a co-author of the paper. "Scientists will use these habitat maps as baseline data to help track changes in reef composition and structure over time."

The Coral Reef Atlas could help identify coral reefs that require urgent conservation. Photo: Pixabay

Tracking these changes will require the use of technology like satellite, aircraft, and drone imaging, say the scientists. "In order to conserve something, it's imperative to know where it is located and how much of it you have," said Sam Purkis, professor and chair of the UM Rosenstiel School Department of Marine Geosciences. "Developing such an understanding for coral reefs is especially challenging because they are submerged underwater and therefore obscured from casual view. With this study, we demonstrate the potential to use satellite images to make coral reef maps at a global scale."

The maps were published recently in the journal Coral Reefs and will be a helpful resource in identifying areas that need conservation most urgently.

Sources: Science Daily, Coral Reefs

About the Author
BA Environmental Studies
Kathryn is a curious world-traveller interested in the intersection between nature, culture, history, and people. She has worked for environmental education non-profits and is a Spanish/English interpreter.
You May Also Like
NOV 10, 2022
Genetics & Genomics
Human or Host? Parasites in Human History & Prehistory
NOV 10, 2022
Human or Host? Parasites in Human History & Prehistory
We've all seen the latest historical interpretations on television, the movies, or even the stage. And while talented co ...
OCT 19, 2022
Health & Medicine
Study Reveals Retained Dust in Lungs of Military Personnel
OCT 19, 2022
Study Reveals Retained Dust in Lungs of Military Personnel
Researchers from the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and National Jewish Health teamed up to investigate lung disease seen ...
OCT 22, 2022
Plants & Animals
Could Wolves Be Man's New Best Friend?
OCT 22, 2022
Could Wolves Be Man's New Best Friend?
Our connection to canines goes back at least 15,000 years. A dog's affection for its human companion is a part of wh ...
NOV 01, 2022
Technology
Arranging Nanoparticles Without Damaging Surface Material
NOV 01, 2022
Arranging Nanoparticles Without Damaging Surface Material
In a recent study published in Science Advances, a team of researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology ha ...
NOV 07, 2022
Technology
Scientists Examine Human-Machine Workplace Relationship
NOV 07, 2022
Scientists Examine Human-Machine Workplace Relationship
In a recent study published in Applied Ergonomics, a team of researchers from Texas A&M University (TAMU) examined t ...
NOV 17, 2022
Plants & Animals
Honeybees Are Living 50% Shorter Lives Than 50 Years Ago
NOV 17, 2022
Honeybees Are Living 50% Shorter Lives Than 50 Years Ago
New research shows that honeybees are living half the lifespans they used to only 50 years ago. Researchers from the Uni ...
Loading Comments...