caribbean coral reefs
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Scientists Just Mapped All the Coral Reefs in the Caribbean

By: Caribbean Journal Staff - December 9, 2020

The Nature Conservancy has completed a significant new project: a region-wide publication of maps of all shallow water coral reefs in the Caribbean. 

Now, the Caribbean has a clear picture of the habitats found beneath its waves. 

“You cannot protect what you don’t know is there. Having access to these maps is a game-changing achievement for the Caribbean,” said Dr. Robert Brumbaugh, Executive Director of The Nature Conservancy’s Caribbean Division. “Thirty countries and territories finally have access to better, more detailed information about their underwater habitats to help them better protect marine areas, support sustainable livelihoods and prioritize their adaptation to potential climate change impacts. Understanding and protecting natural resources is critical to the economic success of these countries.”

The Nature Conservancy scientists, working with the Arizona State University Center for Global Discovery and Conservation Science, worked with Planet Labs to stitch together more than 38,000 high-resolution satellite images. 

“These maps are now being distributed and made widely available to a variety of stakeholders across the Caribbean. Working with partners, we will use these maps to strategically expand marine protected areas, inform smarter coral reef restoration, support nature-based solutions against the threats of climate change, and overall catalyze more effective conservation actions” said Dr. Steve Schill, Lead Scientist for TNC’s Caribbean Division.

The maps show the location of coral reefs, seagrass beds and other “oases of underwater life,” according to TNC. 

“The scope of these maps is unprecedented in the region, and the opportunities they unlock to provide a better future for Caribbean ecosystems, and the millions of people who depend upon them, are astonishing” said Dr. Joseph Pollock, Senior Coral Reef Resilience Scientist for TNC. “Using traditional approaches, it would have taken approximately 250 million diver hours to map such a large area. New technologies have helped deliver these desperately needed maps at a tiny fraction of the effort and cost.”

A study by TNC published in 2019 found that approximately half of all livelihoods in the Caribbean region depended on healthy nearshore and coastal habitats — with coral reefs and reef-associate activities generating almost $8 billion in economic value to the tourism industry — and drawing around 11 million visitors to the Caribbean. 

The organization says the maps are meant to “inform a diverse array of conservation and policy decisions to protect and restore these essential coastal areas that people depend on.”

You can find the complete set of maps here

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