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Free database features panoramic images, scientific data

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A free database launched yesterday from Bermuda, for the first time, makes the health of the world's coral reefs visible for all to see.

“The dramatic decline of coral reefs has been hidden from the world for too long,” said Richard Vevers, project director of the Catlin Seaview Survey.

Bermuda re/insurer Catlin Group's groundbreaking survey has been exploring coral reef systems around the world for the past two years, including the Great Barrier Reef. In just the last few days it's been surveying Bermuda's shallow and deep reefs and produced some incredible images.

Catlin is now revealing the research and verifiable baseline data that it has funded to the world, with the Catlin Global Reef Record, which went live yesterday. The expedition's stunning underwater images appeared in international media, including Time and The Daily Mail, which called it “the world's most comprehensive record” of the demise of coral reefs.

Basically, Catlin is digitising the world's oceans allowing scientists to diagnose the health of coral reefs.

Data and images collected so far are now freely available to the scientific community and public at large.

And the re/insurer is working with Google to bring the company's popular Street View map function under water!

Yesterday, from Bermuda, Catlin hosted a public Hangout on Google to discuss the Catlin Global Reef Record and how it's revealing the oceans' health.

It features hundreds of thousands of panoramic images along with numerous other scientific data.

It has been designed in partnership with scientists from the Global Change Institute, World Resources Institute, Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego, and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the Bermuda Institute of Ocean Sciences and other local partners.

“The Catlin Global Reef Record reaffirms Catlin's commitment to financing impartial environmental research, which began in 2009 with the Catlin Arctic Survey and renewed in 2012 with the Catlin Seaview Survey,” said Stephen Catlin, Chief Executive of Catlin Group.

“As a company that helps clients manage risk, we are thrilled to be part of international efforts to develop truly game-changing science that helps everyone better understand the risks of tomorrow.”

Catlin said the Global Reef Record will enable scientists around the world to collaborate on understanding changes to coral reefs and related marine environments as a result of over-exploitation, pollution and climate change.

As Catlin noted, it is estimated that 500 million people globally depend on coral reefs for food and income and between one-third and one-half of corals around the world have been lost in the last 50 years.

With coral reefs deteriorating at the rate of 1-2 percent per year, scientists say it is imperative that we study and monitor the health of these fragile, yet crucial ecosystems.

By hosting standardised scientific data across important coral reef regions worldwide, Catlin says its Global Reef Record will set a benchmark that will support and host follow-up monitoring.

Within the next two years, the Catlin Global Reef Record will also include Catlin Seaview Survey baseline visuals and data from Southeast Asia, the Indian Ocean, the Middle East, and the Pacific, in addition to the surveys already completed in Australia and the Atlantic Region (Bermuda and Caribbean).

“Over time, the Catlin Global Reef Record will also seek to expand to other reef related data sets, becoming the central resource for data regarding the world's most biologically diverse yet highly threatened ecosystems,” Catlin said.

“The launch of the Catlin Global Reef Record is prescient in that it falls just before the release of the first working group report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPPC) 5th Assessment Report. Studies all over the world are finding that oceans are storing the excess heat associated with human caused climate change and are becoming more acidic — damaging marine life and changing ecosystems such as coral reefs.”

Professor Ove Hoegh-Guldberg of the Global Change Institute and chief scientist of the Catlin Global Reef Record said: “Our oceans are in an unprecedented state of decline due to pollution, overfishing and climate change.

“The data archive provided by the Catlin Global Reef Record and its partners will empower countries with information and analysis of the coral reef ecosystems at scales never before imagined so we can better protect these beautiful and important places before they disappear.”

*The free resource can be viewed online at www.globalreefrecord.org

Bleached coral - images taken this past week in Bermuda by Jayne Jenkins, Catlin Seaview Survey.
Healthy fire coral compared with bleached coral - images taken this past week in Bermuda by Jayne Jenkins, Catlin Seaview Survey.
Professor Ove Hoegh-Guldberg photographing coral disease in Bermuda (C) Jayne Jenkins

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Published September 24, 2013 at 9:00 am (Updated September 24, 2013 at 4:15 pm)

Free database features panoramic images, scientific data

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