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First Ever Map of Hawaii's Precious Coral Reefs

Researchers have created the first-ever aerial map of the island’s coral reefs, enabling conservationists to know exactly where to concentrate their efforts.

Following our report last week of the First Ever Coral Reef Map of the Caribbean, it's great to see similar developments taking place elsewhere - as a comprehensive understanding of the location of reefs will help governments and conservationists monitor, protect, and expand these vital ecosystems.

Hawaii's reefs, like reefs worldwide, face major challenges. Marine heatwaves in 2015 and 2019 caused bleaching events, while coastal development and fishing have also harmed reefs through factors like pollution and sedimentation. So, detailed mapping is going to play a critical role in helping manage these precious marine ecosystems.

“Never before has there been such a detailed and synoptic view of live corals at this scale,” said Jamison Gove of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

To create the Hawaii reef map, researchers from Arizona State’s Center for Global Discovery and Conservation Science flew a specially equipped airplane that combines two technologies: one technology is artificial intelligence and the other is called laser-guided spectroscopy, which allows for maps of complicated landscapes.

Together, these technologies have provided crucial new findings of Hawaii’s reefs. For instance, the map unveiled that about 60 percent of the presence or absence of living coral could be explained by water depth, wave power, or coastal development. This finding could help influence future decisions regarding coastal development in order to protect these reefs.

“Operational mapping of live coral cover within and across Hawaii’s reef ecosystems affords opportunities for managers and policymakers to better address reef protection, resilience, and restoration,” said study co-author Brian Neilson of Hawaii’s Division of Aquatic Resources. “With these new maps, we have a better shot at protecting what we have while focusing on where to improve conditions for corals and the myriad of species that depend upon corals.”



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