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Researchers complete world’s first detailed map of coral reefs

The researchers produced a comprehensive online map of the world’s coral reefs using more than 2 million satellite images from around the world.

The Allen Coral Atlas, named after the late Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, will serve as a benchmark for reef conservation, marine planning and coral science as researchers attempt to save these fragile ecosystems that are on the way. to disappear because of climate change.

The group announced the completion of the atlas on Wednesday and said it was the first such high-resolution global map. It gives users the ability to see detailed information about local reefs, including different types of underwater structures like sand, rocks, seagrass and, of course, coral.

The maps, which include areas up to 15 meters in depth, are used to inform policy decisions regarding marine protected areas, spatial planning of infrastructure such as docks and dikes, and upcoming coral restoration projects.

“Our greatest contribution to this achievement is that we have a consistent mapping of the entire coral reef biome,” said Greg Asner, chief executive of Atlas and director of the Arizona Center for Global Discovery and Conservation. State University.

Asner said they were relying on a network of hundreds of contributors on the ground who provided them with local reef information so they could program their satellites and software to focus on the right areas.

“And that allows us to raise the playing field to a level where decisions can be made on a larger scale because so far decisions have been super localized,” Asner said. “If you don’t know what you have in a more uniform way, how would the UN ever play a real role? How would a government that has an archipelago of 500 islands make a uniform decision? “

The atlas also includes a coral bleaching monitor to check for corals under stress due to global warming and other factors.

Asner said about three-quarters of the world’s reefs had not been mapped in this deep way before, and many not at all.

The project began in 2017 when Allen’s company Vulcan Inc. was working with Ruth Gates, a Hawaiian researcher whose idea of ​​creating a “super coral” for reef restoration was funded by the philanthropic foundation.

Gates and Vulcan brought in Asner because of his work with the Global Airborne Observatory which had mapped the reefs in Hawaii at the time.

Allen, who said he wanted to help save the world’s coral reefs, liked the idea of ​​using technology to visualize the data, so Gates connected the group with a satellite company called Planet, and Allen funded the project for about $ 9 million.

The University of Queensland in Australia used artificial intelligence technology and local benchmark data to generate the atlas layers. Anyone can view the maps for free online.

Allen and Gates passed away in 2018, leaving Asner and others to continue their work. “Ruth would be so happy, wouldn’t she?” Asner said. “She would just be tickled if that really happened.” He said about a third of the calls he receives are from researchers who hope to use the maps to “ensure that their planning and reef restoration work will be at peak efficiency.”

When Gates found out she was ill, she selected a friend and colleague Helen Fox from the National Geographic Society to help her communicate with conservation groups on how to use the tool.

“It was really a global effort,” said Fox, who is now director of conservation science for Coral Reef Alliance. “There have been tremendous efforts in terms of raising awareness and helping people realize the tool and the potential scientific and conservation value.”

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