New Imaging Software Shows Coral Reefs' Recovery After Bleaching

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New Imaging Software Shows Coral Reefs' Recovery After Bleaching

A number of natural resources and species like our coral reefs are now challenged and facing severe threats due to climate change caused by human activities / Photo by: Toby Hudson via Wikimedia Commons


A number of the world's natural resources and species are currently being challenged and damaged by climate change primarily due to human activities. People have seen how our lands and oceans have been negatively affected for the past decades. Marine life, specifically our coral reefs, is facing severe threats that jeopardize their survival. This will not only have an impact on them but also on the entire marine resources. 

An article by the Reef Resilience reported that about 75% of coral reefs around the world are currently threatened by both local and global stressors. In the last 400,000 years, coral reefs have been experiencing higher ocean temperatures and acidity than ever before. If not controlled or addressed immediately, they will become classified as threatened by 2050. Fishing threats, such as destructive fishing and overfishing, are considered the greatest factors affecting the coral reefs. 

The impact on coral reefs are also felt in many countries all over the world and it has been increasing as the years go by. It has been reported that for the past 10 years, the percentage of threatened coral reefs went up by 30%. The nations and territories that have been identified as highly vulnerable to reef loss are now at 27. One of the main reasons why this has happened is due to coral bleaching. 
Tracking down or being aware of the status of our coral reefs is really helpful in being able to address the problem. Fortunately, there are several environmental groups, scientists, and researchers who are hand-in-hand helping to mitigate the impacts of our coral reefs. Their recovery can now be seen through an advanced virtual technology developed by researchers. 


The Growing Concern on Coral Bleaching

Coral reefs play an integral role in maintaining a well-balanced marine life. From fish reproduction and water filtration to shoreline protection and erosion prevention, coral reefs are important in the oceans' functions. At the same time, these species are regarded as the backbone of local economies in many countries around the world. Without coral reefs, marine life and our economy will extremely be affected. 

However, the growing numbers and concerns of the further damage of coral reefs have been happening for the past decades. There are several reasons that can damage them, and these include pollution, overfishing, destructive fishing methods, and many more. These cause the rising sea levels, ocean acidification, and of course, coral bleaching. According to an article by the International Coral Reef Initiative, coral bleaching happens when the symbiosis between corals and their symbiotic zooxanthellae breaks down. 

Coral bleaching is a situation when the symbiosis between corals and ther zooxanthellae breaks down due to several reasons like pollution, overfishing etc / Photo by: NPS Climate Change Response via Wikimedia Commons


Corals experience rapid whitening caused by various factors. But the most severe and frequent reason would be the rise in sea surface temperature. The good this is that when a coral bleaches, it still has a chance to survive. Coral bleaching is occurring in several parts of the world. An article by the Ocean Service reported that the United States lost half of its coral reefs in the Caribbean last 2005. This occurred for a year due to a massive bleaching event. 

However, not all bleaching events happen because of the rise in sea temperature. In fact, cold water temperatures in the Florida Keys in January 2010 caused a coral bleaching event, which killed some corals. In the said event, the water temperatures dropped 12.06 degrees Fahrenheit, which was lower than the typical temperatures during that year. 

Mass coral bleaching also generally happens. Some of the most significant mass bleaching events that have been reported were in 1982, 1987, 1992, and 1998. The strongest sea surface warming event ever recorded happened in 1998, which damaged or killed an estimated 46% of corals in the western Indian Ocean. This can be really challenging since it will take decades for coral reefs to fully recover from a bleaching event. 

The Recovery of Coral Reefs

As mentioned, coral reefs will take several decades to fully recover. During those years, they should have favorable recruitment conditions including an open hard substrate for settlement, good water quality, healthy herbivore populations, and presence of coralline algae. The recovery of the coral reefs can be seen through the imaging and 3D structuring software that has been used by the researchers from Scripps Institution of Oceanography and University of California - San Diego. 

Corals may take years to recover from coral bleaching / Photo by: Ritiks via Wikimedia Commons


According to an article by the Science Daily, this advanced virtual technology was developed by the 100 Island Challenge team, which was composed of marine ecologists and engineers who are monitoring coral reefs around the world. They developed this device by collecting thousands of pictures of the coral reefs in Palmyra that they collected over a period of eight years. All of those photos were stitched together using custom software to create 3D photo mosaics of the ecosystem that now forms into a visual representation of the corals. 

In an interview, Mike Fox, lead author of the study, said, "This imaging provides a way of getting back into the environment in a virtual world. It allows us to bring the reef back into the lab." The researchers used imaging technology to combine with VisCore, a new custom visualization software. This device has the ability to re-examine the images that comprise the mosaics. About 15,000 photographs have been shot by VisCore for every 10-square-meter area of coral reef. After that, it processed that data, which turns the photos into a 3D map.



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