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The natural world. Looking pretty for 3.5b years.

Big Eyes Focused on Reefs

remote sensing provides tools for monitoring coral reefs

Author: Hugh Bollinger/Sunday, June 16, 2013/Categories: photography, space science, sustainability, environment

Remote sensing has many uses but one of the most important is determining the long-term health of coral reefs and changes produced by climate change.

The LANDSAT program has been particularly helpful in the observation of coral reefs. The original satellite cameras were launched in 1972 and now there is an eight version of the technology. The program has created a global library of coral reefs since then. This library of continuous remote photography has allowed researches to view time-series assessments of the reef health.

According to NASA, 18 years of Landsat data has been used to show a decline in the health of reef habitat across roughly 68 percent of the National Marine Sanctuary in the Florida Keys. Landsat images can also be used to detect signs of illegal trawling and other activities that can be harmful to reefs.

Society Islands, South Pacific (credit: NASA/USGS)

Marine biologist, Phillip Dustan of the College of Charleston has commented:

“Reef management benefits from satellite imagery through mapping, change analysis, and threat assessment, While a single image can be used to provide mapping data, the long-term data set provided by Landsat makes for powerful time series of images that can probe the dynamics of ecological change.”

A photograph of Princess Charlotte Bay in northern Australia illustrates this and was captured while a new Landsat camera was still being calibrated. The area lies along the east coast of the Cape York Peninsula and shows the Claremont Isles National Park. This coastal zone is protected as part of Australia's Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Site. The islands are important habitat and breeding grounds for wildlife and seabirds and are off-limits to visitors. Monitoring the habitat is central to its protection.

Princess Charlotte Bay, Cape York, Queensland   (credit: LANDSAT)

Like others, I like visiting coral reefs where they exist but conservation often requires restrictions so as not to be damaged by too much visitation. The "big eyes" of Landsat provide a photographic alternative. Impressive might be an observation.


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