Khaled bin Sultan Living Oceans Foundation Completes Ten-Year Reef Mapping Expedition

kslof great reef expedition survey

A scientific diver surveys the reef on the Global Reef Expedition (Photo: Keith A. Ellenbogen/iLCP)

The Khaled bin Sultan Living Oceans Foundation (KSLOF) has announced the completion of the largest coral reef survey and mapping expedition in history – a 10-year research mission assessing the status and threats to coral reefs across the globe.

Coral reefs around the world are under threat from a variety of both natural and anthropogenic factors, including climate change, overfishing, pollution, and coastal development. Some scientists estimate that more than half the world's coral reefs have already been decimated, and predict that the rest could be lost by the end of the century.

In addressing the problems faced by the world's coral reefs, the KSLOF Global Reef Expedition circumnavigated the globe used using a 'three-pronged approach of science, education, and outreach', to survey and map more than 1,000 reefs in 16 countries across the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian Oceans, and the Red Sea.

KSLOF global reef expedition map

The expedition circled the globe 1.25 times (Image: Khaled bin Sultan Living Oceans Foundation)

The Global Reef Expedition travelled more than 50,000km during its ten-year mission, conducting more than 12,000 scientific dives, and educating more than 6,000 local students and community leaders about coral conservation. His Royal Highness Prince Khaled bin Sultan Abdulaziz Al-Saud of Saudi Arabia formally announced the expedition's conclusion at the IUCN World Conservation Congress on 7 September.

'I launched the Global Reef Expedition to help bring about a new era of knowledge about coral reefs and the challenges they face,' said Prince Khaled, who funded and spearheaded this research mission. 'I knew that this would require a gigantic translocation of resources, cutting-edge technology, and bringing expertise to some of the most remote coral reefs in the world. I did realize that this is not an easy task to achieve, yet my hope in fulfilling this mission never faded.'

Prince Khaled bin Sultan announcing the completion of the Global Reef Expedition

The Global Reef Expedition brought together a team of more than 200 scientists, conservationists, government officials, and local experts who worked side-by-side to conduct the underwater surveys of corals and reef fish communities. Scientists on the expedition also pioneered new ways to map coral reefs by combining high-resolution satellite imagery with data collected in the field, producing more than 65,000 sq km of coral reef habitat maps. Together, these maps and surveys make up the most comprehensive standardised data set yet collected for coral reefs.

'The Global Reef Expedition was a monumental achievement,' said Sam Purkis, KSLOF’s Chief Scientist and Professor and Chair of the Department of Marine Geosciences at the University of Miami’s Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science. 'It owes its success to nimble planning and a common vision shared by a broad group of forward-thinking scientists, managers, and educators. I have no doubt that the baseline determined by the GRE for the world’s reefs will remain a reference for centuries to come.'

 kslof great reef expedition bleaching

A large head of coral bleaching in the Chagos Archipelago (Photo: Phil Renaud/Khaled bin Sultan Living Oceans Foundation)

As a result of the comprehensive nature of the dataset acquired by the expedition, NASA is using maps from the Global Reef Expedition to help train its supercomputers to map the rest of the world’s coral reefs from space. In other studies already underway as a result of the KSLOF mapping project, scientists at the University of Miami are using the data to model factors that contribute to the health and resiliency of coral reefs.

'This expedition amassed a treasure-trove of data that is now being used for coral reef conservation,' said Alexandra Dempsey, the Director of Science Management at KSLOF, who presented the foundation’s findings from the Global Reef Expedition this week at the World Conservation Congress. 'Several countries, including The Bahamas, Jamaica, Fiji, and the Cook Islands, used data collected on the expedition to enact new conservation measures, such as marine protected areas and fishery closures, to protect their reefs.'

kslof great reef expedition classroom

Students take a quiz about coral reefs (Photo: Amy Heemsoth/Khaled bin Sultan Living Oceans Foundation)

The expedition observed evidence of the impending 'coral reef crisis' unfolding on reefs around the world, with climate change and outbreaks of predatory crown-of-thorns starfish found to have caused substantial damage, even on some of the most remote and undisturbed coral reefs on Earth. The vast majority of reefs surveyed also showed signs of overfishing, with few large fish and lower than expected fish biomass.

However, the expedition also encountered pockets of vibrant reefs with high coral cover and thriving reef fish communities, providing a glimmer of hope that under the right conditions, some reefs may be able to survive into the future. 

kslof great reef expedition transects

Scientists of the Living Oceans Foundation surveying corals at the outer reef edge of the Great Barrier Reef (Photo: Jurgen Freund/iLCP)

In addition to the scientific findings, the results of the expedition also noted a 'wide disparity in ocean literacy' among communities that heavily rely on coral reefs for their lives and livelihoods. In order to address this lack of knowledge, the foundation has launched a series of education and outreach programmes, including documentary films and a coral reef ecology curriculum. Prince Khaled hopes that using the knowledge gained from the Global Reef Expedition 'will continue to be used to leave a lasting legacy of ocean conservation, so our children, and our children’s children, can also experience the beauty and wonder of a coral reef.'

 

IUCN World Conservation Congress Presentation, The Global Reef Expedition: Circumnavigating the Globe to Address the Coral Reef Crisis

For more on the Khaled bin Sultan Living Oceans Foundation, a US-based nonprofit environmental organization, visit www.livingoceansfoundation.org

 

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