Measuring reef health from space

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With compelling evidence that we have lost half of the world’s tropical coral reefs over the last few decades, there is an urgent need to understand their overall health. Without this basic information to use as a baseline, it is near impossible to mount a response to the so-called global reef crisis. The most straightforward method we have for monitoring reefs is conducting SCUBA diver surveys. However, this type of field work is logistically and financially challenging to execute on large scales, so developing a new method to monitor reefs remotely is key.

In attempt to find a solution, Anna Bakker combines the fields of remote sensing, computer science, and ecology to measure reef health from space. Recently, Anna published a paper in Coral Reefs, which utilized the Living Oceans Foundation’s Global Reef Expedition field dataset to build a model that can predict coral cover and other metrics of coral reef health using open-source satellite data.

Science Without Borders®: Conserving the Tropics

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The Science Without Borders®: Conserving the Tropics project was proposed to help address the United Nations Ocean Decade Challenge to “understand the effects of multiple stressors on ocean ecosystems, and develop solutions to monitor, protect, manage and restore ecosystems and their biodiversity under changing environmental, social and climate conditions.” Our project focuses primarily on conserving tropical marine ecosystems, including coral reefs, seagrasses, and mangroves, as well as incorporating measurable actions that communities can use to reach their conservation goals.

On the Global Reef Expedition, we saw that, particularly in Small Island Developing States (SIDS) and Least Developed Countries (LDC), there was not only a lack of scientific information, but also a lack of ocean literacy, particularly regarding local ecosystems. The Science Without Borders®: Conserving the Tropics project will leverage our existing scientific data and outreach programs, partnering with universities, non-profit organizations, governments, and communities to help raise awareness and improve conservation of these fragile marine ecosystems. We will be addressing not only the lack of scientific knowledge, but also use outreach programs to improve community wide ocean literacy to help influence behavior change…

Coral Reefs in the South Pacific: A Webinar with SPREP

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The Khaled bin Sultan Living Oceans Foundation recently hosted a webinar with our partners at the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environmental Programme (SPREP). SPREP is an organization established by the governments of Pacific Island nations to protect and manage the environment and natural resources of the Pacific. Their 21 member states (including many we studied on the Global Reef Expedition) work together to achieve healthy and resilient ecosystems and support sustainable development for Pacific communities. Our webinar with SPREP allowed us to share our research findings from the South Pacific directly with people who are actively working to conserve coral reefs and coastal marine ecosystems in the region. This is one of the many ways we are sharing our knowledge and findings from the Global Reef Expedition with the countries and communities in which we worked.

During the webinar, we were able to share information about the work the Foundation completed on the Expedition, including our extensive outreach and education initatives, as well as our scientific findings. We highlighted the programs our education team developed over the course of the Expedition, the many outreach events we held, and provided a comprehensive discussion of the results of our research in the South Pacific as well as our work in the Indian Ocean and Caribbean Sea.

At the end of the presentation, we were able to share our ongoing partnerships and upcoming projects, including our ongoing partnership with the University of Miami to develop a reef resilience model, our partnership with NASA to map the world’s reefs, as well as our numerous education programs such as the Mangrove Education & Restoration Program, Coral Reef Ecology Curriculum, and Science Without Borders® Challenge. Lastly, we shared information about our endorsed UN Ocean Decade Project, Science Without Borders®: Conserving the Tropics, which will use science, outreach, and education to engage local communities to protect their coral reefs, mangrove forests, and seagrass meadows. This project will allow us to build off of our work on the Global Reef Expedition using a co-designed approach to further conservation of tropical coastal marine ecosystems, such as those in the South Pacific.

The webinar was attended by numerous government officials, marine managers, and stakeholders from throughout the South Pacific. Some of the attendees were people we had worked with on the Global Reef Expedition, but many were new and this webinar was a great introduction to the Foundation and our work. There was a great Q&A session at the end where we were able to discuss the findings and share more information about future partnerships.

As we take the work from the Global Reef Expedition to the next level, we are always looking to develop new partnerships to help bring the UN endorsed Science Without Borders® project to communities worldwide. Webinars like this, and partnering with SPREP, are important first steps in the implementation of the Science Without Borders® project and connect us with a network of people who are also working to protect, conserve, and restore ocean health.

Findings from the World’s Largest Coral Reef Expedition Showcased at International Coral Reef Conference

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The Khaled bin Sultan Living Oceans Foundation is sharing its findings from the Global Reef Expedition (GRE) at the 15th  International Coral Reef Symposium (ICRS) this week in Bremen, Germany. This international coral reef conference brings together experts in coral reef …

Sharing our findings at the International Coral Reef Symposium (ICRS)

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The Khaled bin Sultan Living Oceans Foundation will be attending the International Coral Reef Symposium (ICRS) this week to share our findings from the Global Reef Expedition.  The 15th International Coral Reef Symposium is the primary international conference for coral …

World Oceans Day: Working with Partners for Positive Ocean Change

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Happy World Oceans Day!

This year’s theme for World Oceans Day is “Revitalization: Collective Action for the Ocean.” Here at the Khaled bin Sultan Living Oceans Foundation, we are adopting this theme by celebrating all of the ways we are working with partners to bring about positive ocean change.

We know we can’t save the ocean alone, so we embrace our philosophy of Science Without Borders® and work with like-minded institutions on areas where we can lend our expertise. Over the past year we have made great strides in working with our partners around the world on joint efforts to preserve, protect, and restore our living oceans…

Riyadh Blue Talk: Tune-in Tomorrow @ 7am ET

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The Khaled bin Sultan Living Oceans Foundation is delighted to be participating in the Riyadh Blue Talk tomorrow morning, May 24, 2022.

The “Riyadh Blue Talk” is organized by the Office of the United Nations Resident Coordinator, the Embassy of Portugal, and the Embassy of Kenya in Riyadh. The event begins at 7am ET and will be live-streamed to allow for virtual participation.

The Khaled bin Sultan Living Oceans Foundation has been invited to share our knowledge of marine science and conservation, and to present our work to provide science-based solutions to protect and restore ocean health.

Our Chief Scientist, Sam Purkis, will be discussing what measures can be implemented so we can have accessible, affordable, shared data to better support the decision-making process towards ocean sustainability. He will also be participating in a panel discussion on increasing scientific knowledge and developing research capacity to advance ocean conservation initiatives.

Tune in to watch his presentation LIVE @ 8:20 am ET!

Foraminifera are windows to understanding long-term coral reef stress

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This guest blog comes from Dr. Alexander Humphreys, a geology lecturer and researcher at the University of Miami (UM) Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science. The Khaled bin Sultan Living Oceans Foundation is working with Dr. Humphreys and our partners at UM on a new National Science Foundation (NSF)-funded project, “Protists Prophets,” that is looking at benthic sediment samples collected on the Global Reef Expedition (GRE) to assess the state of the coral reef environment over the past 1,000 years.

I am a modern benthic foraminiferal researcher, which means that I study some of the tiniest organisms in the ocean in order to learn about past environmental conditions on coral reefs. However, before we get to this story, let me first explain a bit about these little critters and their importance to science.

Foraminifera, or forams for short, are protists, which are single-celled amoeba-like organisms that grow a protective shell, called a ‘test’. Today there are roughly 4,000 species of forams and they can be found living in all the world’s oceans, from polar environments to the deepest ocean trenches nearly 11 km down. Forams are important to science because they have short lifespans and are sensitive to environmental change. This sensitivity causes rapid shuffling of species abundances over time as the environmental conditions and climates gradually—and sometime abruptly—fluctuate. When the life of a foram comes to an end, the story does not stop there because even though the organism decays, its hard protective test preserves well and fossilizes, laying down evidence of these population changes in the geologic record—one that goes back 500 million years! I approach this deep fossil record of foraminifera like the pages in a book that tells the story of oceanic and environmental change. The trick is learning how to read the story that these little protists have to tell.

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.