Coral reefs are a natural wonder which contain so many interesting and diverse types of marine life. They are under a huge amount of threat because of global warming and pollution and therefore right now it is really important to keep track of the coral reefs around the world.
According to National Geographic, half of the Great Barrier Reef is now dead. This wonderful ecosystem has suffered from mass bleaching, which is where corals react to the warming of the waters around them and thus repels the zooxanthellae that live in their tissues. This then makes the corals extremely vulnerable to death as the zooxanthellae provide them with a lot of the nutrients that the corals need.
Why Is It Important to Map Corals?
Because of the massive threat to coral reefs in the oceans around the world, we must learn about the damage and how widespread it is. In mapping corals, we are able to learn about them and what we can do in order to protect them.
There are a lot of coral reefs around the world that we actually don’t know much about. We don’t know their true size, their health, and what marine life they have in their ecosystem. Sometimes, new coral reefs are discovered. For example, only last year scientists discovered a 500m tall detached coral reef towards the north of The Great Barrier Reef!
There is so much to discover about coral reefs, and it is important to keep track of their changes and health.
Why Is It Difficult to Map Corals?
We don’t know much about coral reefs mainly because the sea is huge and the water is murky! Most of the seafloor hasn’t been properly mapped, with the majority of the ocean only being mapped to a resolution of 5km. This means that there is so much that just hasn’t been properly explored!
According to the New York Times, mapping corals is usually done by swimming with sonars or having them attached to a boat. This is obviously a slow process and means that mapping corals takes a lot of time and effort. It also means that some coral reefs are just not able to be mapped, with issues regarding accessibility or ease being taken into account.
However, because of advances in technology and science, we are able to use new ways to map the corals in our oceans.
How Does Mapping Corals From The Sky Work?
In the last few years, scientists have begun to map corals from the sky. According to the New York Times, Dr. Asner, Dr. Martin, and their team of researchers from Arizona State University have developed mapping instruments that are then attached to a low flying plane. The plane and the instruments are together called the Global Airborne Observatory.
This technology can then look through the water and map the seafloor in 3D to a depth of 50 feet. Mapping coral reefs this way allows scientists to map them quickly and much more easily. The Global Airborne Observatory of Dr. Asner which is still being developed, includes a high-fidelity spectrometer that is able to show the world with a very high amount of detail.
What Does This Mean for Reef Conservation?
This is incredible news for coral reef conservation and opens up loads of opportunities and ways to spread awareness of issues that coral reefs face. It also means that scientists are able to fully track and study the coral reefs, seeing any damage that might be happening. Scientists are able to track the loss that occurs from coral bleaching.
A research article by Dr. Anser and his team was published in December 2020 that explained the work that had already been done with the Global Airborne Observatory in regards to coral reefs.
Because of coral mapping from the sky, the team of researchers have been able to map the coral reefs that surround the main Hawaiian islands. From these maps, the health of the live corals has been examined. Such large-scale mapping of coral reefs has never been done before and allows scientists to study the corals in much more depth.
This ability to study the corals in such a way means that scientists will be able to understand the causes of reef decline and death. We are able to see what human interaction affects the coral reefs, and where. This mapping means that we can inform policy-makers and governments across the globe about what is needed for the protection of coral reefs. Scientists can identity the coral reefs that are in need of protection and help. We can understand what climate change is doing to the reefs around the world
According to nature.org, the entirety of the Caribbean waters have now been mapped. This was done by using the Global Airborne Observatory, satellite imagery, drones, and divers. Scientists took all this data and put it together created detailed maps of the habitats that lie beneath the Caribbean sea.
This information is vital to the communities who live on the Caribbean islands. In knowing all the details of the reefs in the seas, we can all now focus on living sustainably and in harmony with nature.
What Next For Coral Mapping?
Technology will only get better. What has been developed recently is amazing and allows scientists to study coral reefs quickly and more easily. However, there is much more to come!
According to barrierreef.org, there is not a comprehensive map of the Great Barrier Reef. When wanting to protect this wonderful ecosystem, not knowing exactly what is there is a problem. According to the BBC, only 5 – 10% of the Great Barrier Reef is regularly surveyed. This means we cannot keep on top of the changes that are happening, what is causing the changes, and how we can help.
However, with using sky mapping and other techniques, perhaps we will soon get a full map of the Great Barrier Reef. Because of the depths of the reefs, sky mapping is difficult. However, who knows what developments will come!