Corals are crucial to animals and humans around the world. They cover more than 280.000 square km of the ocean floor and provide a home to more than 25% of all marine species. Corals don’t just provide habitats for a quarter of the marine species – 500 million humans’ are also dependent on reefs for their survival – for their food and/or livelihood. The economic value of reefs, in the US alone, is over $3.4 billion a year.
However coral reefs are under threat from numerous sources, pollution, dredging, and rising sea temperatures to name a few. As a result, corals are being destroyed at an astonishing rate – up to 50% of the world’s corals reefs are already gone or been seriously damaged. Half of the iconic Greate Barrier reef is already lost, with 30% being lost in 2016 alone. Some estimate the risk of corals loss at 70% to 90% by 2050.
In order to protect these critical natural resources, it is key to understand and monitor them – tracking the currents, pollution, the acidity and salinity of the water, as well as monitoring direct human activities such as dredging.
This is could be a resource-heavy activity – installing local sensors, taking readings, etc. Fortunately, satellites are now being used more and more for remote sensing, transforming what data is available and driving new insights.
Satellites have actually been used to track corals since 1984 when Landsat was first used to monitor key areas. Satellites are now used in a far wide set of areas including:
- Laser scanning: Measuring bathymetry, seafloor topography
- Radar: Measuring near-surface waves and currents
- Thermal sensors: For measuring for sea surface temperature
The satellite data provide faster results at a lower cost and on a global scale – as well as driving entirely new insights that were simply not possible before. This insight enables the proactive protection of corals and their surrounding environment, giving new hope to these beautiful and fragile environments.