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Massive Global Coral Survey

Benchmark survey to understand the threat to the world's reef



The American space agency NASA has launched one of the largest global surveys of the health of coral reefs. Using revolutionary technology it will spend three years using specially adapted aircraft to gather detailed information about the condition of the planet’s coral reefs.

The project - the COral Reef Airborne Laboratory (CORAL) - is an attempt to gather much-needed data about the true state of our reefs which are threatened by climate change, pollution, over-fishing and ocean acidification.

With the limited amount of information currently available, it is believed that between a third to a half of the world’s reefs have been significantly degraded and unless action is taken all could be lost before the end of this century. 

Until now most prediction have been based on data collected on surveys and samples carried out by divers and research ship.

‘Right now, the state of the art for collecting coral reef data is scuba diving with a tape measure,’ said Eric Hochberg, CORAL principal investigator and scientist at the Bermuda Institute of Ocean Sciences. ‘It's analogous to looking at a few trees and then trying to say what the forest is doing.’

Hochberg's team will survey the condition of entire reef systems in Florida, Hawaii, Palau, the Mariana Islands and Australia. CORAL will use an airborne instrument called the Portable Remote Imaging Spectrometer (PRISM), developed and managed at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. Concurrent in-water measurements will validate the airborne measurements of reef condition. 


'We know reefs are in trouble. We’ve seen the reefs of Jamaica and Florida deteriorate and we think we know what is happening there. However, reefs respond in complex ways to environmental stresses such as sea level change, rising ocean temperatures and pollution,' said Hochberg. 

Hochberg explained that available data, which were not gathered at the right density and spatial scale, do not allow them to develop a quantitative and comprehensive model that accurately explains how and why reefs undergo changes in response to environmental factors. 

'We need accurate data across many whole reef ecosystems to do that,' Hochberg added. 

The team is hopeful that after the completion of data collection in 2017, they will be able to better predict how reefs react to environmental changes using statistics based on hard numbers rather than 'ideas'. 

Hochberg also said that he hopes reefs will be monitored by satellites which can report data on a massive scale as changes occur. 





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