Touring the World’s Reefs Through Data

Coral reefs are amazing feats of natural architecture that are incredibly important to both humans and coastal ecosystems. Even though they only account for 0.01% of the ocean floor, they support 25% of all marine life, and are vital habitats for a vast number of fish and invertebrate species.

Coral reefs stimulate the economy of the coastal regions they occupy through increases to tourism, and their contribution to the health of aquatic ecosystems benefits fisheries. They also provide ecological value by protecting shorelines from storm damage and erosion, as well as fostering biodiversity. Altogether, coral reefs were found to benefit an estimated 1 billion people across the tropics.

Climate change results in ocean warming, which is the main cause of coral bleaching. This causes the coral polyps to expel the algae that provide them with their colorful appearance and act as important nutrition sources. Bleached corals might be unable to recover and would eventually die. Photo credit: Lakshmi Sawitri

However, despite their numerous benefits, coral reefs are facing many threats from human activity, both local and global, including harmful fishing practices, pollution, ocean warming, and acidification caused by greenhouse gas emissions. The impacts have been devastating, resulting in more than half of the world’s reefs being degraded, or even lost.

Data For Conservancy

An issue as important as it is global, coral reef conservancy hinges on accurate and timely data from around the world to identify trends, threats, and other contributing factors as well as to inform and implement necessary action.

The Global Coral Reef Profile, powered by Resource Watch, was initially developed as a first-of-its-kind resource that provides integrated information on the world’s coral reefs. This includes consolidated, map-based information and indicators to inform global conservation efforts, as well as to raise the level of understanding of the complex issue of coral reefs, their value, the threats they face, and the progress on protecting them.

A Focused Approach: Regional Coral Reef Profiles

The Global Profile provides valuable information on the overall state of coral reefs around the world, but the researchers in WRI’s Ocean program saw an opportunity to dive deeper when the Global Coral Reef Monitoring Network (GCRMN) released their global status report for 2020.

The Regional Coral Reef Dashboards were developed to match the GCRMN’s regions.

Data-driven products like the Global Profile aim to inform decision-making processes that lead to responsible management of the ocean and its coral reefs. In order to do so more effectively, researchers and developers focused on key data needs for decision-making relevant to coral reefs for 4 audiences:

  1. Coastal hazard / risk analysts and the insurance sector
  2. Coastal planning and management authorities
  3. Marine protected area managers and authorities
  4. Scientists and practitioners from NGOs implementing marine and coastal protection and restoration.

With the updated data from GCRMN and with focused data needs from stakeholders, the Ocean program collaborated with Resource Watch to create the
Regional Coral Reefs Profiles. These integrate all the previously gathered data and adjusted it to match the 10 regions determined by the GCRMN. This results in a standardized way of presenting information, that ultimately enables decision-makers with a detailed, holistic picture within the areas they manage.

The regional coral reef dashboards integrate data from about two dozen sources, resulting in maps and indicators of dependence on coral reefs, as well as value of coral reefs, global and local threats, coral condition (trends in live coral cover and algal cover); and protection in marine protected areas, and fully protected areas.

Dashboard Insights

To provide you with a sneak peek of the kind of information, let’s take a quick tour of some of the regions considered in the Regional Coral Reefs Profiles.

The first region we’ll explore is South Asia where you’ll see that out of the 180 million people within this region that benefit from coral reefs, there are 51 million that are likely highly dependent on them for food and livelihood. On this dashboard, you can also explore the value and importance of South Asia’s coral reefs through interactive datasets from Resource Watch, including Coral Reef Fisheries Relative Catch and Social and Economic Dependence on Coral Reefs.

Moving southeast we arrive in the Australia region, home to between 16 and 21% of the world’s coral reefs, with 85% located in marine protection areas. However, their mangrove area cover tells a less optimistic tale. While Australia possesses around 7% of the world’s mapped mangroves, they lost nearly 3% of that area between 1996 and 2016. In Australia’s dashboard, you can explore the datasets behind these statistics including interactive maps of Mangrove Forests and Marine Protected Areas.

Continuing east around the globe, we arrive at the Eastern Tropical Pacific (ETP) region where 85% of reefs are threatened by local activity, with overfishing and pollution sourced from land being the most prominent threats. Global threats are also examined on this dashboard, utilizing bleaching conditions to predict severe coral bleaching occurrences and ocean acidification projections to predict overall habitat sustainability.

This tour only scratches the surface of what these dashboards have to offer. We invite you to dive deeper into these regions and discover the 10 regional profiles and their characteristics.

Change on a global scale begins with local decisions and those decisions should be firmly rooted in data and science. Explore the accessible and comprehensive data on the Coral Reef Regional Dashboards that seek to inform those local decisions on coral reef conservancy and bring about global change.

We invite you to dive into detailed coral reef data and information on our Coral Reefs Dashboards

Auburn Schnitzer is a former Communications Intern at Resource Watch 

Sergio Baldit is Communications Specialist at Resource Watch 

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