Researchers complete the first detailed map of the world’s coral in history

Honolulu — Researchers have completed a comprehensive online map of the world’s coral reefs using over 2 million satellite images from around the world.

Named after the late Paul Allen, co-founder of Microsoft, Allen Coral Atlas found that coral reef conservation, as researchers seek to save these fragile ecosystems that are being lost due to climate change. It serves as a reference for marine planning and coral science.

The group announced the completion of the Atlas on Wednesday, stating that it was the first global high-resolution map of its kind. This allows users to see detailed information about local reefs, including various types of submarine structures such as sand, rocks, seagrass and, of course, corals.

Maps that include areas up to 50 feet (15 meters) deep are used to communicate spatial planning of infrastructure such as marine protected areas, docks and seawalls, and policy decisions regarding upcoming coral restoration projects.

Map of the Great Barrier Reef
This screenshot shows a map of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef on September 1, 2021. (Allen Coral Atlas via AP)

“Our greatest contribution to this achievement is the uniform mapping of the entire coral reef biome,” said Greg As, managing director of Atlas and director of the Global Discovery and Conservation Center at Arizona State University. Nah says.

Asner said he relies on a network of hundreds of field contributors who have provided regional information about coral reefs so that satellites and software can be programmed to focus on the right area.

“This has so far been so localized that we can take the competition to a level where we can make decisions on a larger scale,” Asner said. “How does the United Nations really play a role if you don’t know what you have more uniformly? How does a government with an archipelago of 500 islands make a unified decision? Is it? “

The Atlas also includes a coral bleaching monitor to check for coral that is stressed by global warming and other factors.

According to Asner, about three-quarters of the world’s coral reefs have never been mapped in such a detailed way, and many have never been mapped at all.

The project began in 2017 when Allen’s company Vulcan was working with Hawaiian researcher Ruth Gates.

Gates and Balkan brought Asner for his work at the Global Airborne Observatory, which was then mapping Hawaii’s coral reefs.

Collect georeferenced data for the Great Barrier Reef
Alexandra Ordonez Alvarez of the University of Queensland will collect georeference data on the Ashmore Bank of the Great Barrier Reef in Australia in December 2019. (Chris Roelfsema / Allen Coral Atlas via AP)

Allen, who wanted to save the world’s coral reefs, liked the idea of ​​using technology to visualize data, so Gates linked the group to a satellite company called Planet, and Allen spent about $ 9 million on the project. Funded.

The University of Queensland, Australia, used artificial intelligence technology and local reference data to generate layers on the atlas. Anyone can view the map online for free.

Both Allen and Gates died in 2018, leaving Asner and others to continue working.

“Ruth would be very happy, right?” Asner said. “She will be tickled by what this is really happening.”

He hopes that about one-third of the calls he receives will use maps to “confirm that planning and reef restoration work will be most effective.” Said that it was.

When Gates realized he was ill, he chose Helen Fox, a friend and colleague from the National Geographic Society, to help communicate with conservation groups about how to use the tool.

“It was a truly global effort,” said Fox, now director of conservation science for the Coral Reef Alliance. “A great deal of effort has been made to outreach and make people aware of the tools and potential scientific and conservative values.”

Caleb Landry Jones

Associated Press