Could this be the last place on Earth where corals will survive?

Image: The SVII camera surveying the reefs of the Coral Triangle



Our team of scientists have begun a wide scale assessment of what could become one of the ‘last refuges on Earth’ for coral reefs, if losses from climate change and human activity continue worldwide. The research, which is sponsored by international insurer Catlin Group Limited, is capturing vital data about the health, species diversity and size of iconic reefs in the Coral Triangle, the global centre of marine biodiversity found in South East Asia.



The geographic centre of the Coral Triangle


The scientists from the University of Queensland and local partners** are currently spending almost three weeks surveying in Manado, located in the geographic centre of the Coral Triangle, using the Catlin Seaview Survey’s SVII camera to record data on an unprecedented scale.



Resilience to global threats


Professor Ove Hoegh-Guldberg, the Catlin Seaview Survey’s Chief Scientist and Director of the Global Change Institute at the University of Queensland, said:


Regions like Manado in the Coral Triangle could, by the middle of the century, be one of the only places on Earth where coral reefs still exist. Understanding the structure and function of such reefs is of the utmost importance if we are to underpin their resilience to global change. That is what’s driving the largest stocktake of coral reefs in history, which will greatly improve our efforts to understand and protect these wonderful ecosystems.


“Certainly, if we don’t measure these corals, we can’t manage the impact of ocean changes. It is only now, with the technology we deploy, that scientists have the capacity to effectively monitor and measure these reefs, before they are too severely degraded.”



Forty percent lost in thirty years


Global ocean changes are increasingly jeopardising corals. Nearly 40% have been lost in the last 30 years. Research suggests an almost complete loss of coral worldwide by the middle of the century, with huge consequences for the health of the oceans and for people dependent on them for their food and livelihood.


The location of Manado in the Coral Triangle, close to the equator, is thought to have the ideal conditions for a slow emergence of coral reefs over millions of years to become a ‘treasure trove’ of coral abundance and biodiversity.


The scientific survey will establish an extensive picture of the coral reefs at Manado. The information obtained by the Catlin Seaview Survey will feed into a broader understanding of the health of other coral reefs around the world. This data will be available to everyone online at the Catlin Global Reef Record.



Technology keeping pace with the rate of change


Richard Vevers, Director of the Catlin Seaview Survey, said:


“The significance of the Survey is that it is applying technology which can at last keep pace with the rate of change on coral reefs. Surveying that would have taken months using standard methods can now be completed in days. Scaling up our efforts in this way is critical to finding ways to protect coral reefs from the predicted impacts of an increasing global population and climate change.”



Coral reef health as an indicator


Stephen Catlin, Chief Executive of international insurer Catlin Group Limited, which sponsors the Catlin Seaview Survey, said:


“Conducting a major survey of the Coral Triangle is important in our mapping of the world’s reefs. Globally, coral reefs are worth billions of dollars in fishing, livelihoods, tourism and as storm barriers along coastlines. Studying coral reefs provides a better understanding of short-term risks on a local scale but, more importantly, gives us better information about the long-term risks of climate change on a global scale. As insurers, we need to be ahead of the game.”


“There is still a significant lack of information concerning the health of coral reefs. This information is necessary to make informed decisions about how much, and where, governments should invest to ensure the future well-being of our planet.”



** The Catlin Seaview Survey research at Manado is being undertaken in collaboration with Sam Ratulangi University and Indonesia’s Institute of Sciences (LIPI), through its Research Centre for Oceanography.