THE YEAR OF THE PHOTOMOSAIC
2021 will be the first year we monitor coral restoration using only photomosaics. As a refresher, a photomosaic is a single huge image made up of hundreds of high-resolution photos of an entire reef! This technique allows us to observe overall survivorship and coral cover with fewer limitations on a much larger scale.
The scale of our restoration work is massive – we return tens of thousands of corals to the reef every year! To get a more accurate, holistic picture of our impact, we can use cutting-edge photomosaic technology to monitor entire ecosystems as we return corals to an area.
Using photomosaics, like the ones above, we are able to better monitor reef health over time! ©Coral Restoration Foundation™
Because our coral restoration has grown exponentially since our founding in 2007, our original monitoring method no longer provides metrics that capture the full story of restoration success.
We used to individually track and measure about 20% of our corals. Each small cluster of five to ten corals was surveyed for partial mortality, predation, competition and coral fusion. It required a team of at least 4 divers several hours to monitor each reef site, and the focus was on individual corals rather than entire populations.
Photomosaics are set to replace pen and paper monitoring because they allow us to survey much larger areas and gather even more information! ©Alex Neufeld/Coral Restoration Foundation™
Now that we’ve shifted methodologies, our metrics are more meaningful and efficient, giving us the ability to accurately measure the growth, distribution, and overall impact of our corals in the context of the entire reef ecosystem.
TIME IS CORAL
Our photomosaic program is an improvement from previous methods in many ways, from accuracy to cost! We create high quality mosaics using only two divers and two cameras.
One diver, swims over a reef site holding a camera mount with the two cameras positioned a few feet apart. As they swim they are automatically taking one picture every second. While this is happening, a roving diver can survey all the clusters of corals in the area, making notes of relevant observations. With this monitoring method, a team of two divers can monitor an entire reef site in just 30 minutes!
CRF™ divers monitor entire reef sites using photomosaic technology! ©Coral Restoration Foundation™
Back at CRF™ headquarters the hundreds of pictures taken in the field are stitched together using computer software; resulting in one large picture of the restoration site. Using this image, we can see the entire restoration area and zoom in on individual coral clusters for detailed analysis. We can digitally measure each coral from the comfort of our lab, no longer limited by the weather and time spent underwater!
Intern Mitch Torkelson outlines healthy corals seen in a photomosaic using computer software. ©Coral Restoration Foundation™
In 2020, we completed 94 photomosaics covering almost 48,000 square meters of reef! That is the size of 9 football fields! As we continue to break new boundaries with the enormous scale of our restoration, our monitoring must keep pace.
Photomosaics allow us to increase our monitoring to an ecosystem level, and asses our work in terms of populations and communities instead of simply fate-tracking individuals. This approach will be critical as our reef restoration efforts continue to grow!
It is important to monitor restoration on an ecosystem scale, as it is restoration's end goal to restore the entire coral reef habitat! ©Alex Neufeld/Coral Restoration Foundation™
"Talking Science" Editorial Intern
Charis grew up in Michigan where her curiosity for the underwater world started in the local rivers and lakes. She always had a passion for marine biology. While she was in high school, her family unexpectedly had to relocate to coastal Georgia. Moving across the country allowed her to pursue her passion. After learning about the threats and harm humans have caused to coral reefs, she decided she did not want to just study coral reefs, but she wanted to be a part of the solution.
Charis is a recent graduate from the University of Houston-Clear Lake with a M.S. in Biotechnology and a concentration in Molecular Biotechnology. She received her B.S. in Biology with a concentration in Coastal Ecology from the College of Coastal Georgia in 2017. She is a PADI Open Water Scuba Instructor and has enjoyed working as a dive professional in the British Virgin Islands and the Florida Keys. Charis is excited to intern with CRF™ because she is passionate about educating the public on how to protect our oceans.