Calling On All Reef Hands
Citizen-science Project (credit: Virtual Reef Diver)
It is widely known that coral reefs are is serious trouble in the USA, the Caribbean, and around the world. It is estimated that 50% of Australia's Great Barrier Reef (GBR) has died since 2016 and Florida coral reefs are highly degraded. The causes include a toxic combo of el nino-induced ocean heat waves; runoff of agricultural chemicals into the reefs; soil siltation smothering the corals, and in the case of the GBR destruction by the predatory Crown-of-Thorns starfish that graze on coral.
However, coral restoration efforts are underway to assist recovery. Projects range from pure research, to involvement of 'citizen scientists' in marine data analysis, and to wildly creative underwater artistic endeavors. Each project has its own unique characteristics and challenges but here are three examples worthy of more attention:
1. Virtual Reef Diver:
Virtual Reef Diver is a citizen-science effort developed by the Australian Research Council for Coral Reef Studies in collaboration with universities. It allows individuals to work remotely at home and take a virtual "deep dive" onto the Great Barrier Reef (GBR) by viewing photographic data on their computers. People can explore a diversity of reef locations and classify the images displayed as to their coral cover, sand, algae or sea grass, and other features. By using these extra viewers, the ARC expands its capability to quickly review reef data. According to the Knowledge to Innovation program in Queensland, these user-generated databases will allow greatly expanded coverage of the Great Barrier Reef. The Virtual Reef Diver input also allows marine researchers to transfer timely information to reef managers to prioritize activities considering their limited field staffing.
2. NOAA's Coral Reef program: here in America, the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has several initiatives under their Coral Reef Conservation Program (CRCP). The Agency uses a cross-disciplinary approach that addresses: the threats to coral ecosystems from overfishing and climate change; focused reef research; education; the recognizing the importance of "the coral economy"; and media outreach. An infographics strategy combines all these efforts in a series of educational posters and videos. NOAA works to build coral managerial capacity with 'hands-on' trainings and technical assistance. They recognize the direct connections corals have to the lands, islands, and economies that reefs surround and support. NOAA's research directly involves application of ecosystem-based management through a Climate, Reefs, & Resilience strategy:
3. The Creators:
Artists are lending a hand as well to extend understanding, appreciation, and conservation of corals. The British artist Jason deCaires Taylor constructs massive underwater sculptures that serve as artificial reefs as well as art installations. In the Bahamas, He created Ocean Atlas, a person-like form reaching from the sea floor to the ocean surface with palms outstretched. The 60-ton sculpture began as a computer-designed model. It was then constructed in sections that were collaboratively installed to complete the sculpture. This remarkable project brings attention Caribbean reef conservation. The artist is constructing a coralarium in the Maldives as a marine museum where island visitors can snorkel through an 'eco-art' exhibit that corals have colonized.
Everyone would be diminished if coral reefs were to disappear from abuses to the oceans by air and water pollution. Whether providing economic benefits, ecosystem services, wildlife habitat, or simple beauty and wonder, these rainforests of the sea need help in ways both large and small. The people involved in these examples are leading the way by applying their talents, creativity, and technology to produce practical results. Consider becoming involved as well.