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Largest Coral Reef Survey and Mapping Expedition in History Concludes

Largest Coral Reef Survey and Mapping Expedition in History Concludes

Thursday, 16 September, 2021 - 07:00
A researcher studies coral reefs in the Red Sea. Asharq Al-Awsat

The largest coral reef survey and mapping expedition in history concluded its 10-year mission that assessed the status and major threats to coral reefs around the world, using a three-pronged approach of science, education, and outreach.

The Global Reef Expedition, carried out by the Khaled bin Sultan Living Oceans Foundation, surveyed and mapped over 1,000 reefs in 16 countries across the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian Oceans as well as the Red Sea. The mission traveled over 50,000 kilometers, conducting more than 12,000 scientific dives, and educating over 6,000 local students and community leaders.

According to Prince Khaled bin Sultan, the expedition was initially launched as a response to the rapid decline of coral reefs due to various natural and anthropogenic factors, including climate change, overfishing, pollution, and coastal development. Scientists estimate that we have already lost more than half of the world's coral reefs, and we could lose the rest by the end of the century.

"I launched the Global Reef Expedition to help bring about a new era of knowledge about coral reefs and the challenges they face. I knew that this would require a gigantic translocation of resources, cutting-edge technology, and bringing expertise to some of the most remote coral reefs in the world. I did realize that this is not an easy task to achieve, yet my hope in fulfilling this mission never faded," said Prince Khaled, announcing the conclusion of the Global Reef Expedition.

The Global Reef Expedition brought together a team of over 200 scientists, conservationists, government officials, and local experts who worked side-by-side conducting tens of thousands of underwater surveys of corals and reef fish communities. Scientists on the Expedition also pioneered new ways to map coral reefs by combining high-resolution satellite imagery with data collected in the field, producing over 65,000 square kilometers of coral reef habitat maps. Together, these maps and surveys make up the most comprehensive standardized data set yet collected for coral reefs.

"The Global Reef Expedition was a monumental achievement. It owes its success to nimble planning and a common vision shared by a broad group of forward-thinking scientists, managers, and educators," said Sam Purkis, professor and chair of the Department of Marine Geosciences at the University of Miami's Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science.

Purkis says that new and unexpected partnerships are already emerging and speak to the comprehensive nature of this incredible dataset. NASA is now using maps from the Global Reef Expedition to help train their supercomputers to map the rest of the world's coral reefs from space, while scientists at the University of Miami are using the data to model factors that contribute to the health and resiliency of coral reefs.

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