Living Oceans Foundation completes largest coral reef survey and mapping expedition in history


This massive international effort turned into the largest coral reef survey and mapping expedition in history, as the Foundation responded to requests from countries to study their coral reefs.

Coral reefs around the world are declining rapidly due to various natural and man-made 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 that we could lose the rest by the end of the century.

To tackle this coral reef crisis, the Khaled bin Sultan Living Oceans Foundation embarked on the Global Reef Expedition, a 10-year research mission that assessed the condition and major threats to coral reefs in the world. Using a three-pronged approach to science, education and awareness, the Global Reef Expedition has toured the world, surveying and mapping over 1,000 reefs in 16 countries in the Atlantic, Pacific Oceans and Indian, as well as from the Red Sea.

Today, after covering more than 50,000 kilometers, completing more than 12,000 science dives and training more than 6,000 local students and community leaders, the Global Reef Expedition is finally over. His Royal Highness Prince Khaled bin Sultan Abdulaziz Al-Saud of Saudi Arabia officially announced the conclusion of the Global Reef Expedition today at the IUCN World Conservation Congress.

“I launched the Global Reef Expedition to help usher in a new era of knowledge about coral reefs and the challenges they face,” said Prince Khaled, who funded and led this research mission. “I knew it would require a huge translocation of resources, cutting edge technology and bringing expertise to some of the world’s most remote coral reefs. I realized that it was not an easy task to achieve, but my hope of fulfilling this mission never faded.

This massive international effort turned into the largest coral reef survey and mapping expedition in history, as the Foundation responded to requests from countries to study their coral reefs.

The Global Reef Expedition brought together a team of more than 200 scientists, environmentalists, government officials and local experts who worked side-by-side to conduct tens of thousands of underwater surveys of corals and reef fish communities.

Scientists on the expedition also developed new ways to map coral reefs by combining high-resolution satellite images with data collected in the field, producing more than 65,000 square kilometers of coral reef habitat maps. Together, these maps and surveys constitute the most comprehensive standardized dataset ever collected for coral reefs.

“The Global Reef Expedition has been a monumental achievement,” said Sam Purkis, Chief Scientist of KSLOF and Professor and Chair of the Department of Marine Geosciences at the Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science at the University of Miami.

“It owes its success to agile planning and a common vision shared by a large group of forward-thinking scientists, managers and educators. I have no doubt that the baseline determined by GRE for the world’s reefs will remain a benchmark for centuries to come.

Purkis says unexpected new partnerships are already emerging that testify to the comprehensive nature of this incredible data set. 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 contributing factors to the health and resilience of corals. reefs.

“This expedition has amassed a treasure trove of data which is now being used for coral reef conservation,” said Alexandra Dempsey, director of scientific management at KSLOF, who presented the findings of the Global Reef Expedition Foundation. this week at the World Conservation Congress. .

She says the data provides a clear overview of the condition and major threats to coral reefs at a critical time. These results will serve as a benchmark for future research and analysis. They can also help countries prioritize conservation areas and track the evolution of their reefs over time.

“Several countries, including the Bahamas, Jamaica, Fiji and the Cook Islands, used the data collected during the expedition to adopt new conservation measures, such as marine protected areas and fishing closures, to protect their reefs. ”

What the expedition found was just as remarkable as what it took to collect the data. Evidence of the ongoing coral reef crisis has been seen on reefs around the world, with climate change and epidemics of predatory crown-of-thorns starfish causing substantial damage to even some of the most common coral reefs. remote and most intact on the planet.

The vast majority of reefs surveyed also showed signs of overfishing, with few large fish and lower than expected fish biomass. However, the expedition also encountered pockets of vibrant reefs with high coral cover and thriving reef fish communities, offering a silver lining that, under the right conditions, some reefs could survive into the future.

In addition to scientific findings, the expedition also noted a great disparity in ocean knowledge among communities that depend heavily on coral reefs for their lives and livelihoods. The Foundation responded to this need by launching new education and awareness programs, including a study program on coral reef ecology and documentary films, to share their knowledge of coral reefs and improve knowledge of coral reefs. oceans around the world.

Now that the Global Reef Expedition is over, Prince Khaled hopes that the knowledge gained from this research mission will continue to be used to leave a lasting legacy of ocean conservation, “so that our children, and children of our children, can also discover the beauty and wonder of a coral reef.

Source: Press release


Khaled bin Sultan Living Oceans Foundation:

The Khaled bin Sultan Living Oceans Foundation is a United States-based, non-profit environmental organization that protects and restores the world’s oceans through scientific research, awareness, and education. As part of its commitment to Science Without Borders®, the Living Oceans Foundation provides data and information to organizations, governments, scientists and local communities so they can use the latest scientific advances to work for sustainable protection. oceans.

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