Along with being home to some of the most biodiverse ecosystems on our planet, coral reefs also provide 500 million people their living and protect fragile coastline communities from hurricanes. In the last three years, however, a mass coral bleaching event has occurred due to increasing global temperature rise. When heated, corals expel the symbiotic algae living in their tissues that are responsible for their brilliant colors. If bleached long enough, the corals eventually die. Arizona State University (ASU) in partnership with Vulcan Inc., has created a map to keep corals alive with the Allen Coral Atlas.
In collaboration with the University of Queensland, National Geographic Society, and Planet, ASU and Vulcan developed a high-resolution mapping system that provides data insights to preserving reef systems around the world. With pin-point precision, the Allen Coral Atlas maps can show changes among the world’s massive reefs at a level of detail of just a few square meters. users can download habitat maps, satellite imagery, and ocean depth data from the interactive map. With this information, reef scientists and managers can spot threats and head off risks with innovative solutions.
Not only are the global maps providing big-picture intelligence, but also the new technology will make it possible to detect subtle changes to reefs over time. Previously, science was focused on the large-scale bleaching events after the fact. Now researchers will be able to see changes at the sediment level before a catastrophe happens. Quickly identifying and acting on potential threats to reef ecosystems can save these underwater habitats. Future applications of the atlas technology will include robotics, artificial intelligence and new satellites to further expand the platform’s capacity.
Sri Lanka’s government has already used the atlas for expanding their marine national parks and carrying out reef restoration work.“This is the tip of the iceberg in global reef science for governance and the public,” said Greg Asner, the project lead and Director at the Center for Global Discovery and Conservation Science at ASU. Asner foresees more actionable steps to saving coral reefs with this new map and has hope, “We can and must do more to support activities that increase awareness and drive innovations to protect, restore and steward coral reefs into the future."