A multidisciplinary approach to mapping, monitoring and modeling marine ecosystems
School of Life and Environmental Sciences | The University of Sydney | Australia
The shallow reefs of our seas are amongst the most productive ecosystems on the planet. Yet these areas are also typically the most heavily impacted by the ever-expanding human footprint. Impacts such as coastal development and climate change induced coral bleaching are driving dramatic changes to the habitats that serve as the basis for these incredibly diverse systems.
The 3D Reefs Project is a synergy of science and engagement which uses the latest innovations in imaging technology to shed much-needed light on the problems faced by our shallow reef systems, and also to offer solutions. We use the process of photogrammetry to build high resolution models of everything from individual coral colonies to hundreds of square metres of reef. The incredible detail offered by these models allows us to track growth and erosion rates of coral reefs resulting from cyclone damage or coral bleaching. We can also pull apart the various aspects of the structural complexity of these habitats to better understand their importance to different groups and types of organisms living on them. This allows us to predict changes in fish assemblages as a result of events such as coral bleaching or the replacement of coastal rocky reef by seawalls and jetties.
We can also go further to use this information to design the structural elements of remediation efforts, for instance the 3D printing of specific coral models from our library to replace complexity lost on bleached reefs over the short to medium term recovery period. The 3D models we develop also serve as a powerful outreach and communication tool, serving up something that is out of sight and mind to the majority of people in a compelling and engaging way, allowing them to observe the beauty of these systems in a truly interactive manner. The Project is built heavily around off the shelf components, allowing broad applicability within not only the science community but opening doors to citizen science as well. The 3D Reefs Project aims to engage the public in the plight of these systems, grow our scientific understanding of them and develop practical short term solutions to mitigate the ongoing impacts.