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A sea change for ocean and climate science
Published on September 24, 2013 Email To Friend    Print Version

coral_bleaching.jpg
Healthy fire coral compared with bleached coral -- images taken this week in Bermuda by Jayne Jenkins, Catlin Seaview Survey

HAMILTON, Bermuda -- The Catlin Seaview Survey, a pioneering scientific expedition revealing the state of the world's coral reefs, today announced the launch of the Catlin Global Reef Record (www.globalreefrecord.org), sponsored by international insurer Catlin Group Limited.

The Catlin Global Reef Record is a first-of-its-kind global database and online standardized research tool relating to major coral reef ecosystems. The Catlin Global Reef Record will enable scientists around the world to collaborate on understanding changes to coral reefs and related marine environments as a result of over-exploitation, pollution and climate change. It is estimated that 500 million people globally depend on coral reefs for food and income and between one third and one half of corals around the world have been lost in the last 50 years.

The launch of such a database is prescient in that it falls just before the release of the first working group report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPPC) 5th Assessment Report. This important document will report the scientific consensus on the physical and chemical changes of oceans associated with the rise of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide. Studies all over the world are finding that oceans are storing the excess heat associated with human caused climate change and are becoming more acidic – damaging marine life and changing ecosystems such as coral reefs.

Revealing the Reefs

Freely available to the scientific community and public at large, the Catlin Global Reef Record features hundreds of thousands of 360-degree panoramic images along with numerous other additional scientific data sets. The Catlin Seaview Survey team collected the groundbreaking visuals and data for the Catlin Global Reef Record during expeditions of the Great Barrier Reef, coral reefs across the Caribbean and its most recent expedition in Bermuda, which launched on September 18.

Beyond the Catlin Seaview Survey images and data, the Catlin Global Reef Record also incorporates critical data and research methods on coral reef health from a host of scientific collaborators to establish a much-needed common methodology in research and measurement. These key collaborators include:

•The Global Change Institute (GCI) at The University of Queensland in Australia is focused on bringing together multidisciplinary expertise to contribute solutions to major global challenges in areas such as climate change, oceans, food security and renewable energy technology. Global projects such as the Catlin Seaview Survey, building one of Australia's first zero carbon buildings and some of Australia's largest solar energy fields typify the thought leadership associated with the Global Change Institute and its partners. GCI scientists are leading the gathering of the scientific data around the world, and the analysis of that data.

•The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is incorporating its Coral Reef Watch data across the Catlin Global Reef Record. Specifically, all reefs recorded by the Catlin Seaview Survey are being set up as a virtual station, which is like having a temperature sensor in the water next to a reef, but it is completely based on satellite remote sensing measurements. Users can access up-to-date maps showing global sea surface temperatures, thermal stress and coral bleaching alerts, automated email systems will allow scientists and park managers to immediately become aware when ocean temperatures grow dangerously high for corals.

•Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego scientist, David Kline, is working with GCI to develop autonomous assessments of the hundreds of thousands of panoramic images taken of the reefs using their sophisticated semi-automated image recognition software to analyse the per cent coverage of the main benthic organisms (e.g. corals, algae, other invertebrates) in the photographs.

•The World Resources Institute is incorporating data and findings from its seminal "Reefs at Risk" reports. More information on those contents can be found here: http://www.wri.org/project/reefs-at-risk

By hosting standardized scientific data across important coral reef regions worldwide, the Catlin Global Reef Record will set a benchmark in coral reef science that will support and host follow-up monitoring programs. Within the next two years, the Catlin Global Reef Record will also include Catlin Seaview Survey baseline visuals and data from additional major coral reef regions of Southeast Asia, the Indian Ocean, the Middle East, and the Pacific in addition to the surveys already completed in Australia and the Atlantic Region (Bermuda and Caribbean). Over time, the Catlin Global Reef Record will also seek to expand to other reef related datasets, becoming the central resource for data regarding the world's most biologically diverse yet highly threatened ecosystems.

Additional Benefits

Beyond its ability to address the need for a standardized approach, accessibility to data and regional resource constraints, the Catlin Global Reef Record will also serve as an important management tool for marine park managers. These park managers can use the database to publicize their marine parks, both to locals and tourists, to promote the profile of the marine park and the reasons for protecting it. The database will also allow park managers to track damage to the reefs caused by explosives, pollution and coastal development – providing an accountability that was previously non-existent.

Because it's public facing and easily accessible, the Catlin Global Reef Record will serve as a knowledge platform and provide an educational gateway for secondary schools and universities to increase students' understanding of the biology and ecology of coral reefs, as well as the challenges they face.

Bermuda: A Sentinel of Climate Change and its Impact in the Atlantic

Corals are considered the "canary in the coal mine" when it comes to impacts of climate change and ocean acidification. While Bermuda's reefs are proving to be resilient to change, conditions in the Atlantic are changing rapidly, which exemplifies the need for the Catlin Global Reef Record to establish important baselines in partnership with the scientists of the Bermuda Institute of Ocean Sciences (BIOS) and other local scientific partners.

The Catlin Seaview Survey kicked off its latest expedition on September 18 and is currently surveying the shallow and deep reefs around Bermuda. Among the scientific findings, the team has found that reefs 40 to 60 feet below the surface are currently undergoing a small amount of coral bleaching – confirming an alert originally announced by NOAA's Coral Reef Watch (CRW) Satellite Bleaching Alert (SBA) system. The area is under a Level 1 alert, which indicates that high water temperatures have been sustained for more than four weeks, causing algae growing inside the corals to become toxic. Some areas close by are in Level 2 alert, which means mortality is likely. Scientists from the project will be testing how effective the SVII camera and image recognition procedures are at detecting and measuring the amount of bleaching on Bermuda's reef systems.

"This could represent a powerful technique for rapidly responding to stress events such as mass coral bleaching and mortality," said Professor Ove Hoegh-Guldberg. "Enabling rapid yet highly accurate techniques such as these will almost certainly improve our ability to understand and respond to the threats posed by warming seas."
 
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