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.


Remote Coral Reefs – Living Oceans Foundation travels the world

International Coral Reef Symposium 2012 – Cairns, Australia – Thoughts from Day 3

ICRS Living Oceans Booth

Amanda Williams (Living Oceans Foundation; right) and Dr. Julie Scopelitis (left) in front of the Living Oceans Foundation booth at ICRS 2012

Starting in 2011 and continuing through 2016 the Khaled bin Sultan Living Oceans Foundation is conducting a global expedition to explore and document the conditions of remote reefs around the world. The purpose, according to Living Oceans GIS analyst Amanda Williams, is “to characterize remote coral reef ecosystems around the world in order to both map habitat status and assist managers with identifying resilient reef locations.”

The expedition, which is being conducted from the well-appointed 219 foot research ship the Golden Shadow, began in the Bahamas and the Caribbean, is scheduled to proceed through the South Pacific and the Indian Ocean, and ultimately conclude its remarkable journey in the Red Sea. Throughout its worldwide travels the ship is stopping at remote reef locations, where scientists are measuring important ecological parameters to document reef composition and health.

Each stop along the tour is coordinated with local partners and conducted using specific management objectives in mind. Data is collected using snorkeling, scuba diving, and other research techniques that allow scientists direct access to the complex underwater reef environment. This same field data is also being integrated with high resolution satellite imagery to generate informative new habitat maps.

The intent of the expedition is not only to provide comprehensive assessments of select coral reefs throughout the world, but also to collectively use the gathered information to answer important questions for coral reef science, preservation and management. By documenting the conditions on these remote reefs, which are some of the healthiest in the world, scientists aim to enhance our overall understanding of coral reefs and improve conservation efforts. The Global Reef Expedition and its accomplishments can be followed online at

Coral Reef Remote Sensing – High technology from above and below

International Coral Reef Symposium 2012 – Cairns, Australia – Thoughts from Day 2


Draft cover: Coral Reef Remote Sensing

The second day of ICRS 2012 saw the exciting launch of an innovative book entitled “Coral Reef Remote Sensing: A guide for mapping, monitoring and management.” This groundbreaking new book explains and demonstrates how satellite and other imaging technologies, referred to collectively as “remote sensing,” are essential for understanding and managing coral reef environments around the world.

The book is produced by an international group of coral reef scientists and managers who collectively demonstrate for the first time how the unique data provided by the world’s satellite and other imaging sensors are used for the full range of science and monitoring activities required to understand and manage coral reefs. These remote sensing resources are now unparalleled in the types of information they produce, the level of detail, the area covered and the length of the time over which data has been collected.  When used in combination with field data and knowledge of coral reef ecology and oceanography, remote sensing is an essential source of information for understanding, assessing and managing coral reefs around the world.

The assembled team of authors are from research institutions, governments and non-government organizations around the world. The lead editor of the book is HySpeed Computing president, James Goodman, in collaboration with co-editors Samuel Purkis from Nova Southeastern University and Stuart Phinn from University of Queensland. The authors produced a book that comprehensively explains each remote sensing data collection technology, and more importantly how each technology is used for coral reef management activities around the world.

The book is scheduled to be available January 2013 from Springer publishing. It is accessible to a general audience as well as remote sensing specialists, resource managers, and anyone else working with coral reef ecosystems.

An Eden Beneath the Waves – A critical time for coral reefs

International Coral Reef Symposium 2012 – Cairns, Australia – Thoughts from Day 1

It’s an event that only occurs once every four years. The world’s coral reef experts gather to discuss the latest developments in reef science, management and preservation. This year’s event is being hosted in Cairns, Australia, the gateway to the Great Barrier Reef.

With some of the world’s most spectacular reefs located just offshore of the conference location, the motivation for the coral reef community to work together in preserving this valuable natural resource is an imminent reality. The conference delegates are reminded of this imperative in the opening plenary session by Dr. Jane Lubchenco, head NOAA Administrator, who asserts that in the past decade the threats to coral reefs have grown from worrisome to dire.

Jane Lubchenco

Dr. Jane Lubchenco addresses the ICRS 2012 delegates.

Coral reefs are periodically stressed by natural cycles in weather patterns and environmental conditions, and become threatened when this natural stress level is amplified and augmented by human disturbances. Such threats originate from overdevelopment of coastal areas, pollution and sediment runoff onto reefs, bleaching from elevated sea surface temperatures, and increasing ocean acidification, to name a few. As a result, scientists predict that without action coral reefs will continue to rapidly decline in the coming decades. However, all is not without hope. Coral reef scientists and managers are actively engaged in projects throughout the world to preserve and protect this irreplaceable ecosystem, and there are many promising examples of successful projects making a positive impact on coral reef health. Dr. Lubchenco demonstrates that these “examples provide a sense of hope – and window to the way forward.”

The parting thought from traditional elder Seith Fourmile during his opening address provides an apt reminder of the importance of the work being conducted by the ICRS delegates: “there is only one planet – the planet doesn’t need us, but we need the planet.”

It is only through collaboration that coral reef conservation can be effective. Scientists and managers need to work together towards common goals, while at the same time speaking a language understood by the entire community.

Into The Blue – GPUs and Remote Sensing

HySpeed Computing’s president, James Goodman, is attending the 2012 NVIDIA GPU Computing Conference. He’ll be sharing his experiences, thoughts and news coming out of the convention.

HySpeed Computing President James Goodman at NVIDIA’s GPU Technology Conference

To close out Day 4, I had my chance to take the stage and share my insights on the versatility and power of GPU computing.

In an exciting and intriguing project with Northeastern University, we were able to apply this technology to effectively research the impacts of climate change and environmental degradation on coral reefs. Though beautiful and incredible, coral reefs are also very susceptible to changes in their ecosystem. To monitor the state of coral reefs, we utilized remote sensing technology, specifically imagery from satellite and airborne instruments, to map coral reef distribution and assess changes over time.

If it were not for GPU computing though, this research would have taken incredibly longer to process and analyze. Through this technology we were able to accelerate our algorithms to incredible speed, enabling a greater amount of imagery to be processed. This ultimately created a much more efficient pathway for the mapping and assessment of coral reefs.

It was exciting to share our research and collaborate with others in the scientific computing community. It will be interesting to see how this technology continues to evolve and expand over the next year.