How Open Data Can Help Coral Reef Conservation Efforts

By Asha Velay

Researchers from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) are using open data to assist with conservation efforts. Open data is “data that can be freely used, re-used and redistributed by anyone – subject only, at most, to the requirement to attribute and share alike.” The NOAA recently published its’ entire dataset of coral reef habitats and fish assemblages in the western central Pacific.

The dataset is from 2010–2017 and each region was visited at least every three years, with 500–1,000 surveys annually performed. The data serves as a large-scale monitoring system, allowing researchers to observe changes in the reefs over time. Researchers hope to differentiate human impacts on the coral reefs from other natural forces of the ecosystem.

Coral reefs ecosystems are of critical value to humans, since they “provide food and livelihoods to millions of people worldwide and contribute to the cultural fabric of coastal communities. Researchers note that:

“[coral reefs] are also important from a global heritage perspective, due to the intrinsic value of the biodiversity and richness of life they contain”

However, humans are in the midst of a coral reef crisis. Recently, we have experienced one of the longest mass coral reef bleaching events on record. Coral bleaching is caused by Environmental changes such as light, temperature or nutrients that expel the symbiotic algae living in their tissues, causing the coral to turn completely white in color. Bleached coral reefs are not necessarily dead. Corals may survive a bleaching event, but they are under more stress and are subject to a higher mortality rate.

Researchers believe a large-scale open data monitoring program would be beneficial in solving this problem. They argue they will have to work together “to create a core set of community standards for how to calibrate across different methods, and what to monitor. But by doing this, the information we gather will be far more useful in addressing the coral reef crisis.”  Open data is an important part of this monitoring.

Coral reefs are just one of the pressing environmental problems conservationists are attempting to solve. As we move towards the future, open data continues to present a possible solution. Scientists have recently used open data to monitor wildlife populations in protected areas around the world.

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