Underwater scooter to reveal Filipino reefs

University of Queensland (UQ) coral reef researchers will visit the Philippines this week to assess the state of coral reefs over larger scales and in more precise detail than ever before.

The Catlin Seaview Survey, a major project of UQ’s Global Change Institute, is a pioneering scientific expedition revealing the impact of environmental change on the world’s coral reefs.

The researchers will use a specialised high-resolution panoramic camera system mounted on an underwater scooter to survey large stretches of reefs within the Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park.

The Catlin Seaview Survey shallow reef team lead scientist Dr Benjamin Neal said the park was one of the best-preserved coral areas in the Coral Triangle; a region where 95 per cent of reefs have been affected by over fishing, destructive fishing practices, coastal development, pollution and climate change.

He said the camera system would generate a scientific baseline of information, allowing for a comparison of local reef health over time.

“We are working closely with researchers from the Tubbataha Reefs Management Office so that images and data collected by the project can be used to assist in science-driven conservation,” Dr Neal said.

The Catlin Seaview Survey will also take the innovative camera system to other key reef sites in the Philippines, Solomon Islands and Indonesia to create a region-wide survey.

The scientific data collected will be available in the Catlin Global Reef Record, a free online research tool.

“The Catlin Global Reef Record will serve as a data and analytical resource that scientists and reef managers around the world can have at their fingertips,” Dr Neal said.

Images in the record are scanned for coral species and combined with regional coral bleaching data to allow for worldwide analysis of coral reef health.

The open-access repository aims to encourage global collaboration between scientists, local and international management authorities and the public.

Dr Neal said the data was important for the future conservation and management of coral reefs in the Coral Triangle and worldwide.

The Catlin Seaview Survey is backed by funding from international insurer Catlin Group Limited.