Last summer, Coral Restoration Foundation Bonaire provided us with the amazing opportunity to conduct our MSc research projects on a paradise island. After a tough – and rather stressful! – year at the University of Oxford, we could not have been more excited to leave our computer screens for the crystal clear, turquoise waters of Bonaire. Coral lovers as they are, the Coral Restoration Foundation Bonaire was so kind to provide us with the perfect study objects, for which we are particularly grateful! Through our science projects, we wished to provide useful knowledge and new tools to help the Coral Restoration Foundation Bonaire in actively restoring the island’s coral populations.
To see if coral restoration is successful, the growth and condition of corals after they have been transplanted to reefs needs to be monitored. Information from monitoring programs can help organizations like CRF Bonaire to improve their important work by showing which reef locations, transplant methodologies and habitat types are most effective for coral restoration. But continuously monitoring out-planted corals – especially considering the number of corals that are transplanted on a daily basis – is very tricky! A main difficulty is that most reef monitoring methods require experienced divers with expertise, particular skills and specific ecological knowledge. Other challenges are that monitoring can be time-consuming and can require expensive equipment. Our research aimed to design a simplified reef monitoring tool, which can be used by anyone who is passionate about coral restoration such that everybody can partake in surveys and reef monitoring.
We have all experienced that technology has advanced rapidly over the past years with applications in many different fields. Unfortunately the conservation community has only made baby steps when it comes to applying these new advances to the most urgent issue of all: the health of our planet. We believe that there is much to be gained from new tech for applications that help our environment. Anti-poaching drones and synthetic rhino horn are some examples of the potential of new tech in conservation. On Bonaire, we decided to see how new tech can be helpful for our favorite organisms: corals.
We have worked with a relatively simple digital method to create realistic 3-Dimensional models of corals and even whole reefscapes. All we needed was a GoPro camera (or any other type of underwater camera) and a computer, which means that the method was very accessible and cheap compared to conventional alternatives. After capturing any marine organism from all angles with an underwater camera – such as an outplanted coral – a lifelike 3-D reconstruction is only a few mouse clicks away. And no, you don’t have to be computer savvy! It only took us 2 afternoons to learn the basics to 3-D model corals and during our time on Bonaire, we also gave a workshop – ask Francesca or Bridget!
With these lifelike 3-D models, you get can provide a whole bunch of interesting information – for example growth, health and complexity of individual corals but also of entire reef ecosystems. Reef complexity is a very important characteristic of healthy reefs, because complex reefs provide various types of habitat to marine organisms.
The data obtained from the 3-D models can be used for comparisons of change of individuals or entire reefscapes over time. By regularly making a model of an outplanted coral, you could follow its changes in shape and structure over time and see how effective the restoration procedure is.
Technologies like these can help us to be smarter about how we solve environmental issues and restore degraded ecosystems. We are hopeful that our research on 3-D modeling of corals and reefscapes will provide the Coral Restoration Foundation Bonaire with a new tool that will advance their coral restoration strategies. A tool that can be used by all coral lovers, such that anyone can participate in surveys and monitoring of coral ecosystem
Julia & Denise