Scientists Create New Map of the World’s Coral Reefs

SYDNEY — Using satellite technology and sophisticated machine learning, a team led by marine experts in Australia have created new maps of the world’s coral reefs.

The scientists discovered there are more coral reefs around the world than previously documented, with Indonesia, Australia and the Philippines having the most coral reefs. 

Over 100 trillion pixels of data were examined. The result is a high-resolution map that gives fresh insight into the distribution of reefs.

The Allen Coral Atlas initiative has identified approximately 348,000 square kilometers of shallow coral reefs globally to depths of up to 30 meters, an increase from previous estimates.

Experts hope the study will allow politicians, scientists and environmentalists to better understand and manage coral reef systems.

Coral reefs face a range of threats, including climate change, overfishing and pollution.

Australia’s Great Barrier Reef — the only living thing visible from space – is also undermined by industrialization and coral-eating crown of thorns starfish.

“In Australia we, kind of, had a reasonable idea of where a lot of our reefs might have been,” Mitchell Lyons from the School of the Environment at Australia’s University of Queensland told the Australian Broadcasting Corp. “But for some jurisdictions across the southwest Pacific or Indonesia, Philippines, there were not very good, consistent maps of where coral reefs were.  I guess the advantage of having these consistent maps all over the globe is that we can start to report and account and, I guess, conserve.”

The maps are publicly available through the Allen Coral Atlas and Google Earth Engine.

The project receives funding from a company founded by the Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen and managed by Arizona State University in partnership with conservationists and the University of Queensland.

The full study was published in the journal Cell Reports Sustainability.  It states that “coral reefs possess a quarter of all marine life and contribute to the well-being and livelihoods of a billion people worldwide.”

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