New Atlas Captures Conditions of Nearly One-Fourth of World’s Coral


Popular Mechanics
April 25, 2019


An international team of scientists has created the world’s first global coral reef atlas. The atlas, created with the help of Earth-orbiting satellites and field observations, contains 25,097 square miles (65,000 square kilometers) of coral reefs and their surrounding habitats. Considering there are an estimated 110,000 square miles (284,300 square kilometers) of coral reef across the planet, the new atlas covers around 23 percent of that total.

Coral reefs are among the world’s most threatened habitats. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, they’re in decline around the world, and a number of scientists “believe the very existence of coral reefs may be in jeopardy unless we intensify our efforts to protect them.” The new mapping project could better help identify areas under immediate threat.

“In order to conserve something, it’s imperative to know where it is located and how much of it you have,” says Sam Purkis, professor and chair of the UM Rosenstiel School Department of Marine Geosciences, in a press statement. “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 global scale.”

Scientists took data from surveys conducted on what was known as the Global Reef Expedition, a study of coral reefs that, like this mapping project, was partially funded by the Khaled bin Sultan Living Oceans Foundation (KSLOF), a scientific foundation based in America and founded by Saudi Royal Prince Khalid bin Sultan Al Saud. Scientists at KSLOF and the University of Miami (UM) worked together to combine the survey data with ultra-high-resolution satellite imagery.

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