Ocean Decade unveils new set of endorsed Actions on all continents

By IOC-UNESCO World Oceans Day: June 8, 2022 UNESCO has announced the endorsement of 63 new endorsed Actions in the context of the United Nations Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development 2021-2030 (the ‘Ocean Decade’). The announcement adds to …

2021: A Remarkable Year for the Khaled bin Sultan Living Oceans Foundation

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Despite the restrictions imposed by the pandemic, 2021 was a truly remarkable year for the Khaled bin Sultan Living Oceans Foundation.

After spending ten years in the field circumnavigating the globe, we concluded the Global Reef Expedition (GRE)—the largest coral reef survey and mapping research mission in history. Prince Khaled made the formal announcement at the IUCN World Conservation Congress, where we also presented our data and findings from this groundbreaking research mission.

Now that the Global Reef Expedition is complete, we are taking our coral reef research to the next level. This past year we signed a Space Act Agreement with NASA to help them map the world’s coral reefs. We have shared over 65,000 square kilometers of our coral reef maps with NASA so they can use them as a guide for how to map coral reefs from space. We are also using our GRE data and expertise in a new partnership with the Pacific Blue Foundation that will use machine learning to automate image analysis of benthic photo transects. Meanwhile, we continue to work with our partners at the University of Miami on new coral reef health and resiliency models. This includes a new project funded by the National Science Foundation to assess the long-term health of coral reefs.

In addition to our scientific accomplishments, the Foundation had several notable achievements in outreach and education. In 2021 we launched a new TV show, Our Living Oceans, which is now playing on EarthxTV. This 6-part documentary series takes viewers on a journey of discovery, educating viewers on the health of our living oceans, the threats they face, and what is being done to save them through conversations with scientists, conservationists, and local leaders from around the world. We also expanded the offerings on our Education Portal, which continued to be a valuable resource for students and teachers, especially for those learning remotely during the pandemic.  

We are very proud of what we have been able to achieve this past year and look forward to what we will be able to accomplish in the years to come.

To learn more about our recent accomplishments, check out our 2021 Annual Report:

Corals in the Anthropocene

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This guest blog comes from a former KSLOF fellow, Dr. Anderson Mayfield, who joined the foundation on many of our Global Reef Expedition research missions in the Pacific and Indian Oceans. A former student of the renowned coral biologist Dr. Ruth Gates, Dr. Mayfield studies coral health and physiology at NOAA’s AOML Coral Program and at the University of Miami’s Cooperative Institute for Marine and Atmospheric Studies. He continues to publish scientific papers based on data collected on the Global Reef Expedition, including his latest paper, recently published in the journal Oceans.

As a naïve post-doctoral researcher back in 2012, I had an idea that was surely far from novel at the time: corals of far-flung, uninhabited atolls are in better shape than those closer to major human population centers. The logic was that these corals would be under global-scale stressors only (namely those associated with climate change), and not the threats that instead plague reefs close to cities (such as pollution and overfishing).

As a fellow with the Khaled bin Sultan Living Oceans Foundation during their Global Reef Expedition (GRE), I tested this hypothesis by sampling corals from among the most seemingly pristine islands and atolls in the Pacific and Indian Oceans. Although we certainly observed beautiful reefs with high coral cover (see image above) and diversity as well as a plethora of fish —all the visible hallmarks marine biologists look for in ‘healthy’ reefs—the corals themselves told a different story (Mayfield et al., 2017); high cellular stress levels were documented in the vast majority of the many hundreds of corals sampled across the GRE.

Despite looking healthy, the corals were struggling to survive.

These high stress levels do not, in and of themselves, imply that all such sampled corals are not long for this Earth. They do signify, however, that we likely never visited ‘pristine’ reefs during the GRE, despite studying some of the most remote coral reefs on the planet. This is a testament to the wide reach of climate change. This statement may come as a surprise to some, who, like me, assumed that somewhere out there, one might find corals entirely untouched by humankind, but this unfortunately does not appear to be the case.

Reflections on a Big Year

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As 2021 comes to a close, the Khaled bin Sultan Living Oceans Foundation is taking some time to reflect on everything we have accomplished this year.

Despite the restrictions imposed by the ongoing pandemic, we have had quite a few things to celebrate. This year we entered into a partnership with NASA to map the world’s reefs, concluded our 10-year Global Reef Expedition, and published a final report of our findings. We also presented our research at two major international conferences: the IUCN World Conservation Congress and the International Coral Reef Symposium (ICRS), released a report of our research in the Chagos Archipelago, and published several peer-reviewed scientific papers.

Our education and outreach departments also had a remarkable year. This year we launched a new mangrove conservation program with our partners in Jamaica and had students from over 60 countries submit artwork to our Science Without Borders Challenge. Last but certainly not least, we produced an excellent TV show on ocean health, “Our Living Oceans,” which is now playing on EarthxTV.

It’s been an incredible year, and we look forward to the work we will accomplish next year to help protect, preserve, and restore our living oceans.

Global Reef Expedition Final Report

The Global Reef Expedition Final Report summarizes the findings from our 10-year research mission to survey and map coral reefs across the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian Oceans as well as the Red Sea. The Expedition involved hundreds of research scientists …

The Khaled bin Sultan Living Oceans Foundation Partners with NASA to Accelerate the Mapping of the World’s Coral Reefs

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Coral reefs are in crisis. Corals are an ancient life form and, because of the reefs that they build, the survival of countless other organisms is predicated on healthy coral ecosystems. But coral reefs are dying at an alarming rate. …

Making the Grade: How we grade coral reefs

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The Khaled bin Sultan Living Oceans Foundation recently published our findings on the health and resilience of the coral reefs in the Kingdom of Tonga. The report includes a unique grading scale we developed to indicate the relative health and resilience of the reef. For each survey site we visited in Tonga, we assessed the benthic community and classified the reef as being in “good,” moderate,” or “poor” condition.

This assessment was based on the overall live coral cover, algae, and invertebrate composition of the reef.

AI for Earth

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Microsoft’s Artificial Intelligence (AI) for Earth program is harnessing the power of the Global Reef Expedition dataset to build a predictive model of global coral reef health and resilience. Anna Bakker, a Ph.D. student working with KSLOF’s Chief Scientist Dr. Sam Purkis on remote sensing of coral reefs, was awarded the Microsoft AI for Earth Grant for the duration of her Ph.D. This program will grant us access to use the immense power of AI, machine learning, and cloud computing to analyze the data collected during the Global Reef Expedition.

5 Things You Can Do Today to Help Save Our Oceans

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This Earth Day make a commitment to be a champion of our oceans.

Our oceans cover 71% of our Earth and contain over 99% of the living space on our planet—but they are in trouble. Facing increasing threats from climate change, overfishing, and pollution, we need to take action to protect our oceans before it is too late.

Here are five things you can do today to help save our oceans:

Coral Bleaching and Mortality in the Chagos Archipelago

Coral Bleaching and Mortality in the Chagos Archipelago Atoll Research Bulletin, November 2, 2017 By Charles Sheppard, Anne Sheppard, Andrew Mogg, Dan Bayley, Alexandra C. Dempsey, Ronan Roche, John Turner, Sam Purkis  Abstract The atolls and coral banks of the Chagos …