According to reports on climate change, most of the world’s coral reefs could die by the end of this century as a result of bleaching, which occurs when above-average sea temperatures upset the balance of coral with algae that inhabit its tissue. If disrupted, corals expel their algae, which causes them to turn white and become vulnerable to disease and death.
Coral reefs, one of the most diverse habitats in the world, cover just 0.1% of the ocean floor, yet they support approximately 25% of the world’s fish biodiversity. A study published last year by Science revealed that bleaching events have become five times more frequent. In the 1980s, the average reef was affected every 25 to 30 years. Today, bleaching events occur once every six years. Although coral reefs can recover from occasional bleaching events over time, recurring bleaching will kill off entire reefs.
Given that monitoring the condition and strength of coral reefs takes time, the process of organizing, analyzing, and sharing data gathered underwater can take years. Fortunately, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) has discovered a ground-breaking tool that simplifies coral reef data collection, enabling scientists to analyze information sooner.
The Marine Ecological Research and Monitoring Aid—known as MERMAID—is a web-based tool that scientists around the world can use for free to record valuable coral reef data both online in an office and offline on a boat. Observations can be entered directly into the application rather than outdated software like Excel. MERMAID will “proof-read” the data, resolve mistakes and generate clean, readily available datasets, saving researchers months of meticulous data review and enabling them to find timely solutions to protect coral reefs.
Developed by WWF, the Wildlife Conservation Society, and SparkGeo, MERMAID allows users to share data across partner institutions to inform others and promote joint solutions. In December 2018, more than a dozen marine scientists from non-profit organizations and government agencies took part in a summit in Fiji where they learned how to use the tool in order to improve underwater monitoring skills. Participants were also allowed to provide feedback to improve MERMAID. The event was also a chance to discuss coastal conservation in Fiji and engage with other conservation efforts around the world.
WWF and its partners expect to expand the use of MERMAID in 2019 to enhance coral reef preservation efforts before its too late.