Coral reefs are undeniably beautiful, but for most people, they probably seem far removed from daily life. They aren’t. According to NOAA, fish that grow on coral reefs provide food to 1 billion people, and 85% of those fish-eaters rely on the fish as their main protein source. The preservation of coral reefs is a big deal, both economically and environmentally.
The Catlin Global Reef Record, launched earlier this month by the Catlin Seaview Survey (a scientific endeavor aiming to catalog what’s happening with the world’s coral reefs), is a series of data sets and breathtaking panoramic images intended to help scientists understand how factors like climate change, pollution, and overfishing are affecting reefs.
The images found on the Record, which are freely available to anyone who visits its website, were shot with a custom-built camera that can take high-resolution, 360 degree panoramic images on long underwater expeditions. These photos were analyzed with computer vision techniques to determine the structure of the reefs and to pinpoint damage to them.
So far, images are available of the Great Barrier Reef and reefs across the Caribbean. Scientists are currently working on imagery from the shallow and deep reefs surrounding Bermuda, where they’ve found reefs with signs of bleaching–an indicator that high water temperatures have been lingering for more than a month. This can cause algae growing in coral to turn toxic and deadly.
The researchers cataloguing Bermuda reefs are hoping that their work can precisely measure the amount of bleaching happening in the ecosystem–a measure of the impact of ocean acidification and climate change in the area. By the end of 2014, the Record will have data and images for approximately 300 coral reefs.