Keeping An Eye on Corals – Image based science and management

International Coral Reef Symposium 2012 – Cairns, Australia – Thoughts from Day 4

Amongst the many coral reef professionals gathered in Cairns, which include a diverse mix of ecologists, biologists, geologists, oceanographers and managers, there are also a collection of the world’s foremost experts in remote sensing of coral reefs. These scientists provide the “eyes from above” that deliver large-scale overviews of entire coral reef systems.

ICRS: Brando and Botha

Dr. Vittorio Brando and Dr. Elizabeth Botha from CSIRO present their poster on coral reef remote sensing

In the context of coral reef science, remote sensing encompasses a number of different but related disciplines, including photography, multispectral and hyperspectral imaging, lidar, radar and acoustics. Measurements are acquired from airplanes, satellites, ships, underwater vehicles, and from land. The commonality is that the output from each technology produces two-dimensional, and in some cases three-dimensional, images of the reef and its surrounding environment.

Analysis of these images spans a variety of techniques. At its most straightforward level, remote sensing can be used to simply visualize coral reefs and manually interpret what is present in a given areas, such as identifying the locations of reef, seagrass, sand, water, mangrove, beach and land. More significantly, these images can be quantitatively analyzed to derive vital measurements of reef distribution, properties and health. For example, imagery can be used to determine parameters such as habitat composition, water clarity, water depth, topographic complexity and water temperature. Knowledge of such parameters is critical for understanding how reefs function as well as how they respond to changes in the environment.

The field of coral reef remote sensing has evolved significantly in the past decade, with new technologies and improved analysis methods enabling increasingly complex scientific and management questions to be addressed using image-based tools. As evident during the symposium, remote sensing is now omnipresent throughout the coral reef community. The information derived from remote sensing provides descriptive maps that are basis for scientific investigations and form the foundation of many coral reef management plans.

It has been encouraging to see the breadth and sophistication of applications in the remote sensing presentations at the ICRS. It will be exciting to see how coral reef remote sensing continues to grow in the coming years.

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