Ailinginae Atoll – Ailinginae Atoll in the Marshall Islands. Photo credit:Greg Asner

All of the world’s shallow coral reefs have been digitally mapped, thanks to athree-year project combining two million satellite images, enormous amounts offield data and University of Queensland-developed mapping techniques.

The Allen Coral Atlas project has officially launched its high-resolution mapsof the world’s reefs which, together with the Atlas’s coral monitoring toollaunched in May, will revolutionise reef management.

The project is an international research collaboration led by Arizona StateUniversity in partnership with UQ, Planet Ltd, National Geographic and VulcanInc.

UQ’s Remote Sensing Research Centre researcher Dr Chris Roelfsema said thedigital atlas is a comprehensive and continually updated tool, perfect forscientists, policy makers and planners.

“To manage environmental assets like the world’s reefs, you need to knowwhat’s happening at any given time,” Dr Roelfsema said.

“The Allen Coral Atlas provides maps that accurately describe the compositionand extent of our reefs globally, and at a level of detail not seen before.

“These maps are connecting people with the data they need to save our reefs –it’s momentous.”

The Allen Coral Atlas, now available online, has been a global effort with UQscientists playing the leading role in gathering verification data, developingand implementing the mapping approach for the world’s coral reefs.

“The verification and mapping approaches we’ve developed are based on 20 yearsof experience UQ has in combining reef knowledge, field data and earthobservation processes to map and monitor coral reefs,” Dr Roelfsema said.

“This work combined 450 field data sets from global collaborators with machinelearning and automated contextual-editing approaches, which helps us achievethe highest spatial and thematic resolution of coral reefs anyone has everseen.”

The data is needed now more than ever, with models predicting 70 to 90 percent of coral reefs will be lost by 2050, because of warming, polluted andacidic oceans.

Professor Greg Asner, Director of Arizona State University’s Center for GlobalDiscovery and Conservation Science and Managing Director of the Atlas project,said he was thrilled to announce the platform.

“It is a gratifying milestone after years of dedicated non-stop teamwork tobring this global map to fruition,” Dr Asner said.

“But the true value of the work will come when coral conservationists are ableto better protect coral reefs based on the high-resolution maps and monitoringsystem.

“We must double down and use this tool as we work to save coral reefs from theimpacts of our climate crisis and other threats.”

The Allen Coral Atlas is named for the late Microsoft co-founder Paul G.Allen, and founder of Vulcan Inc.

The official collaborative press-release for the Allen Coral Atlas, along withimages, video and other digital assets is available here.

A history of UQ’s involvement in the project is available here.

Image above left: Geomorphic Map, Great Barrier Reef. Geomorphic mapscommunicate the seascape or structure of the ocean floor. There are a total of12 geomorphic classes identified on the Allen Coral Atlas. Photo credit: AllenCoral Atlas.

Image above right: Underwater data collection – Dr Alexandra Ordonez Alvarezfrom The University of Queensland collects georeferenced data in Heron Reef.Photo credit: Chris Roelfsema.

To find out more about Dr Roelfsema’s work on the Atlas, read this ResearchImpact feature.

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