Marisa Morby marisa morby

Design & Nature Reimagined: Using mapping to save our coral reefs

Coral bleaching is an ongoing problem due to warming waters. Algae (zooxanthellae to be specific) and coral have a symbiotic relationship. Coral feed on the algae and the algae gives them those vibrant colors. When waters warm too much, the algae are driven out of the coral, leaving it white, and removing their food source. Coral bleaching is what we call the white coral reefs left behind. Currently, about 19% of the world's coral reefs have died due to bleaching, and each year that the waters warm, we lose more. Coral reefs are home to 25% (a full quarter!) of fish species live in coral reefs, so their loss means that these animals are literally losing their homes. However, there are some great ways that tech and nature are working together to help save coral and its marine life.

Makeshift homes

Biorock is a beautiful example of tech and science supporting nature. Biorocks are metal scaffolding that is placed in the water and pulses with light electrical charges. These charges interact with the minerals in the water, generating limestone. That limestone is what naturally makes up skeletons for marine life like coral. So with the growth of the limestone comes the growth of the coral. Injured coral can also be moved to these structures, and when moved here, the recover faster than they do in environments without the structures. Once it's healed, it can be returned to sea. The biggest problem right now is providing energy to the scaffolding, because it does require electrical pulses to work, and when scientists have tried using solar panels, they're often stolen. However, tidal power from waves may be a future option to allow these structures to be placed much further out to sea. Another way we're helping grow more coral reefs is by sowing their larvae during spawning season. The LarvalBot collects and spreads the coral larvae to other areas of the ocean. This would normally have to be done by divers, so having robots collect and spread this larvae increases their impact and reach, which means that hopefully more baby coral reefs will be able to take root and start growing into strong reefs.

We can't improve what we don't measure

Like I mentioned in the peat bog newsletter, mapping proves an important part of climate work. Mapping helps us see the scale of a specific problem we're trying to tackle, and that scale helps us create a plan of action. Esri is a company that supports ArcGIS (interactive mapping) tooling, is often used for this type of data collection and mapping. One of the ways they help is by mapping bleached coral reefs. NOAA has real time monitoring and updates on 213 global coral reefs with their NOAA Coral Reef Watch, and ArcGIS provides an interactive dashboard to see which coral reefs are at risk of bleaching.

Open data and survey tools for coral reefs

Maybe Mermaids can save coral reefs. A new data tracking tool called MERMAID lets field scientists studying coral reefs quickly upload data on the coral reefs that they're surveying in real time—even when they're offline and underwater. Being able to quickly share this information saves them a lot of time that would otherwise be spent updating spreadsheets. Additionally, this tool allows them to create visualizations and reports that they can share with others, improving communication and collaboration about the coral they're trying to save.

That's what I've got for you today! Coral reefs are magically colorful and beautiful, so I'm going to share a few pictures with you to show the vibrancy of our reefs.

A pink and orang plant within a coral reef

Photo by Nariman Mesharrafa on Unsplash

A lionfish hiding among the reef.

Photo by Nariman Mesharrafa on Unsplash

A coral reef with tons of beautiful orange fish

Photo by Nariman Mesharrafa on Unsplash

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