Mapping Coral From Outer Space to Undersea

Satellites, aircraft, drones and drop cameras are used to create maps

in unprecedented detail for meaningful ocean habitat conservation

"We have taken to the skies to monitor coral reefs at scales never before possible, while making strides on the ground and in the sea to revolutionize coral conservation and restoration." - Joseph Pollock, Ph.D., Senior Coral Reef Resilience Scientist, TNC

The Nature Conservancy (TNC) and partners are working to reveal and understand coral health at different scales to answer a range of vital questions for resource managers, governments, and conservationists. Scientists are collecting data using different technologies and platforms, each of which provides an important layer of information to inform marine conservation and management initiatives.

  • Satellite imagery from Planet's Dove constellation enables classification of benthic habitats such as coral and seagrass at a regional level. These maps can be used for reliably modeling the economic value of coral reef ecosystem services, including flood reduction, coastal protection and fisheries; identifying vulnerable coastal communities where habitats can be restored to provide critical protection from erosion and storms; and informing marine spatial plans at the national or regional level.

  • Airborne imagery from the Arizona State University's Global Airborne Observatory (GAO) can be used to derive spatial data such as live coral cover and habitat complexity, or rugosity. These maps will help coral managers identify specific locations to outplant coral to maximize survival rates.

  • Drones and divers are deployed by The Nature Conservancy to inform and validate habitat information derived from satellite and GAO imagery.

3D rendering of data from ASU's GAO for TNC in the DR. Image is built using a GAO depth map with color taken from just three of the >400 bands of light captured by the spectrometer aboard the GAO. Visualization by ASU.