Monitoring News
Emily Darling, Papua | WCS

MERMAID a new technology allows us to track real-time health of coral reefs around the world

Emily Darling, Papua | WCS

World’s first open-source coral reef conservation platform, MERMAID, lets you dive deep into the health of reefs around the world. To date, MERMAID has received data from over 1,200 coral reefs around the world

MERMAID, an open-source tech platform for marine scientists, is for the first time launching an interactive map that provides an insider’s view of the ecosystem data collected from coral reefs by field scientists around the world.

MERMAID (Marine Ecological Research Management AID) is a first of its kind free, online-offline platform that allows scientists anywhere in the world to collect, analyze, and share field-based coral reef surveys. Developed in partnership between the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), World Wildlife Fund (WWF), and Sparkgeo, MERMAID first launched in 2019. In the year since going public, field scientists across ten countries have input their monitoring expedition data from nearly 10,000 transects and >1,200 sites. Over 570 users have registered for MERMAID from 41 organizations around the world, including government agencies, nonprofits, and universities.

The platform now houses thousands of data points, allowing organizations and governments to monitor the impacts of climate change on vital reef ecosystems. This data helps us identify the world’s remaining functioning coral reefs, allowing us to strategically focus conservation efforts where they are most needed, while also providing insights used to support the recovery of struggling reefs to maintain livelihoods and food security for local communities.

“Field scientists play a critical role taking the pulse of coral reef health,” said Dr. Emily Darling, Conservation Scientist with WCS’s Marine Conservation Program who leads the organization’s global coral reef monitoring program and helped develop MERMAID. “MERMAID uses cutting-edge open source technology and makes it field ready. The dashboard strengthens MERMAID’s vision for a world where coordinated and collaborative information supports rapid evidence-based decision making to protect and manage coral reefs.”

Coral reefs are a main source of food, livelihoods, and cultural heritage for over five hundred million people globally. Reefs are threatened by climate change and human activities like over-development of coastal cities, pollution and sewage runoff, and overfishing. An estimated two-thirds of coral reef fish have been lost compared to historical reefs, and the majority of reefs are missing more than half their coral reef fish biomass due to unsustainable fishing. However, functioning, healthy reefs remain in our oceans, situated in rare ocean “cool” zones and located far afield in remote ocean wilderness areas where they’re shielded from most human impacts.

We can still act to safeguard functioning reefs for the coming decades. By monitoring coral reef health, scientists ensure that we have our finger on the pulse of these ecosystems and can mount science-based interventions in partnership with communities and governments when needed. MERMAID’s dashboard helps us quickly and clearly see which reefs need our help, and which are rebounding thanks to local and international conservation efforts.

“Despite the many global and local pressures facing coral reefs, my view from the Pacific is not all doom and gloom.” says Dr. Stacy Jupiter, WCS Melanesia Regional Director. “With rapid access to data on coral reef health, we now can better pinpoint management actions and mobilize collective action to safeguard reefs that have features that will enable them to persist into the future.”

MERMAID is built for the most part on open-source technologies, and its code is open to all for inspection and contribution. “Transparent, reproducible code should be a keystone of wildlife conservation science,” said Kim Fisher, MERMAID development lead.

With a focus on underwater surveys, MERMAID complements and extends existing technology tools for coral reef conservation, such as the Allen Coral Atlas that offers high-resolution satellite images and map layers of coral reef habitat.

“We are excited to be collaborating with the MERMAID team to drive positive impacts for the health of coral reefs and the people who depend on them,” said Kirk Larsen, technical lead for the Allen Coral Atlas at Vulcan Inc. “These free, open tools provide timely, credible data that inform conservation activities and policy decision making.”

MERMAID is made up of three tools. The first is a collection app, which allows scientists to quickly and easily input complex reef data from the field. The second app launching June 30th, MERMAID’s global dashboard helps us understand and visualize that data by providing a global snapshot of the health of the world’s reefs. The third application will focus on streamlined analysis and statistical reports so MERMAID users can easily share their findings with governments, communities, and peers.

“From providing habitats for countless marine species to protecting our coastlines from waves, storms, and erosion, the role of coral reefs in our global ecosystem cannot be overstated,” said Antha Williams, head of global environment programs at Bloomberg Philanthropies. “The threats to our world’s corals are real, and we need robust, data-driven solutions in order to ensure their long-term safety. The real-time data provided by the best-in-class MERMAID dashboard will be critical to these efforts, allowing us to be more agile and responsive as we work to protect reefs from the challenges of a warming planet.”

  • Click here to tour MERMAID’s dashboard and see a map of the world’s coral reefs.
  • Click here for an online training webinar about MERMAID.
  • Click here to access MERMAID’s open-source development

WCS’s work to develop MERMAID was supported by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Bloomberg Philanthropies Vibrant Oceans Initiative, and the Paul M. Angell Family Foundation.

Source: The WCS Newsroom

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