Efforts to save dying coral reefs bolstered by stunning 3D map

27 Nov 2017

Image: Brian Kinney/Shutterstock

Many of the Earth’s coral reefs are on the brink of collapse due to climate change, but new 3D maps could help change that.

Because we don’t see it right in front of us, it’s easy to forget the damage being done to coral reefs across the globe, but scientific studies of oceanic wonders have shown extensive bleaching caused by climate change.

In an effort to help us better understand and hopefully reverse this damage, a team of researchers is undertaking an effort to 3D map more than 17,000 sq ft of coral reef in the Palmyra Atoll island, roughly 1,700km south of Honolulu.

According to The Verge, teams of divers have spent the past few years collecting images of the reef, detailing its shape using high-resolution imagery. With the research team’s software, they can catalogue the different species of coral.

Publishing its latest findings online, the Scripps Research Institute team led by Clinton Edwards revealed that in the Palmyra Atoll, corals tend to bunch up closely together, particularly the fragile ones.

This is to give them greater protection from both creatures of the deep and severe storms that might dislodge and break the coral reef apart.

Making it public through VR

In terms of conservation, the team believes that this method of data gathering will replicate the success of forestry imaging on the surface, which has led to major discoveries in the past year or two.

Eventually, the team hopes that the Palmyra Atoll will be just one reef catalogued as part of a project called the 100 Island Challenge.

With data gathered on 100 coral reefs across the globe, researchers believe we can put together a precise image of how coral reefs grow and die, giving us a much better understanding of them as the effects of climate change become more apparent.

Eventually, the Scripps team hopes to introduce the stunning 3D maps into the world of virtual reality (VR) by allowing the general public to explore them from their own living room.

The team is already using VR headsets to analyse the reef from its lab.

Updated, 8.38am, 29 November 2017: This article was updated to clarify the location of Palmyra Atoll.

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic