Magazine article Geographical

Mapping Coral: Knowing Where Past Coral Reefs Existed Is a Crucial Component in Understanding the Health of Existing Reefs, and Hypothesising Which Ones Will Still Exist in the Future

Magazine article Geographical

Mapping Coral: Knowing Where Past Coral Reefs Existed Is a Crucial Component in Understanding the Health of Existing Reefs, and Hypothesising Which Ones Will Still Exist in the Future

Article excerpt

Centuries-old nautical charts, mapped by sailors to avoid shipwrecks, can be a valuable asset in the ongoing research into the decline of our planets coral reefs. Specifically, understanding the health of coral reefs of the Florida Keys has been greatly helped by comparing 18th century imperial nautical maps--such as the above by George Gauld, a surveyor with the British Admiralty during the period 1773 to 1775--with modern-day observations of coral reefs, allowing for far broader and longer term analysis of areas of the ocean where reefs were not known to have previously existed.

Researchers from a joint US-Australian study recently concluded a study utilising the data provided by these maps, and discovered that more than half of the coral reef habitat mapped in the 1770s no longer exists, while in some areas, coral loss was close to 90 per cent. 'Most of the change that we found was in the near-shore,' reveals Professor Loren McClenachan, Assistant Professor at Colby College, in Waterville, Maine, and lead author of the study. 'Most of the coral that is still there from the 1770s was offshore, so there it's still coral. But the near-shore reef is--to a large extent--lost.'

These results indicate that many reefs will have been demolished by direct human activities such as coastal development and dredging, unlike the climate change-induced ocean warming which is proving so destructive today. …

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