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Coral Reefs: A Larger-than-Anticipated Marine Presence

Coral reef mapping study expands known extent of reef ecosystems worldwide, revealing their larger global footprint and underscoring importance of conservation efforts.

New satellite images have recently uncovered 64,000 square kilometers of previously unknown coral cover, equivalent to the size of Ireland. These findings have led researchers to estimate that the world’s coral reefs span an impressive 348,000 square kilometers. Although this accounts for just 0.1% of the Earth’s oceans, these reefs play a vital role as marine habitats. They are believed to support a substantial proportion, ranging from 25% to 40%, of all marine species, while also serving as shields for coastlines and sources of livelihood for millions of people.

Offering Hope against Imminent Threats

Despite the significant value they bring, coral reefs face imminent threats posed by climate change, overfishing, and pollution. However, with the newfound knowledge of their true extent, researchers remain optimistic about the prospects of protecting these ecosystems.

Dr. Mitchell Lyons, the lead author of the study from the University of Queensland, emphasizes that this discovery is more than just a detailed map. It serves as a powerful tool for positive change in reef conservation and broader coastal and marine environments. Armed with this comprehensive data, scientists, conservationists, and policymakers are poised to gain a deeper understanding of coral ecosystems and take effective steps towards their preservation and management.

Mapping Reveals Extent of Coral: Indonesia Surpasses Australia

A comprehensive mapping project called the Allen Coral Atlas aims to gather extensive data to aid in the protection of coral reefs worldwide. Thanks to advancements in satellite technology, global estimates of coral cover have become possible in recent years, with the project utilizing data from Dove CubeSats, a constellation of satellites.

By combining imagery from these satellites with photos from the European Space Agency’s Sentinel-2 satellites, researchers have achieved an unprecedented level of detail in mapping the Earth’s coral reefs. In total, they have documented 348,361 square kilometers of shallow coral reefs, an area approximately 1.5 times the size of the UK.

However, only around 80,000 square kilometers of this mapped area harbor coral themselves. The remaining space encompasses environments that are considered part of coral reefs but currently lack coral, instead hosting other important reef organisms such as algae and seagrass.

The mapping project has also shed light on coral-rich seas surrounding Indonesia and Australia, providing the first comprehensive documentation of these areas. The findings revealed that Indonesia surpasses Australia as the most coral-rich country on Earth, boasting twice as much coral.

Conservation Efforts

The team behind the atlas aims to continuously update and refine their data to demonstrate how these fragile ecosystems are evolving over time, especially as the threats to corals become more pronounced.

To accomplish this, the researchers are integrating data from various sources to monitor and track specific threats to coral reefs. For instance, records of bleaching events can indicate which areas are at higher risk of being affected by heat.

Scientific research has suggested that swift response to bleaching, such as shading at-risk corals, can aid in their recovery. Therefore, early alerts facilitated by the coral atlas can significantly increase the chances of successful coral protection efforts.


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