Press Release

International Partnership to Develop First-Ever Global and Dynamic Maps of Coral Reefs

Seattle, WA — Jun 04 2018

Coral Crisis Motivates Leaders in Technology and Science to Forge new Mapping System

A new partnership is responding to the crisis facing the world’s coral reefs and the need for global maps and monitoring systems by harnessing satellite imagery and big data processing. Currently, less than a quarter of the world’s reefs are sporadically mapped or monitored by visual assessment from SCUBA and light aircraft or, in a very few places, lower resolution satellite images.

The partnership will provide the first-ever seamless mosaic of high resolution satellite imagery of the world’s coral reefs and will engage with the global coral reef science and management communities to deliver accurate maps of the features making up the reefs and how they are changing. The mosaic, maps and eventual change detection system will be made available to conservationists, planners and policy makers who are responsible for conserving and managing reefs.

This effort is the result of a collaboration with Vulcan Inc., Planet, Carnegie Institution for Science, University of Queensland, and the Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology. It demonstrates commitment by leaders across disciplines to take on one of the world’s most intractable challenges, developing tools to support, inform and inspire critical conservation community measures to save our diminishing coral reefs.

“We need to know what is occurring in this hidden world of shallow coral reefs if we have any hope to save them,” said Art Min, vice president of impact for Vulcan. “Coral reefs cover less than 1 percent of the ocean surface and yet nearly 1 billion people and 25 percent of all marine life depend on them.”

For the first time, high resolution and frequent satellite images of reefs are available, providing an opportunity to scale and deliver information-rich mapping in a timely and consistent manner. The global coral reef satellite imagery provided by Planet at 3.7 meter resolution will be processed and corrected for distortions from the atmosphere, sun glint, materials in the water column and surface waves. The images will deliver accurate information on sea-floor reflectance which is essential for mapping coral and other features of reef systems around the globe.

In association with coral reef science and management communities, the partnership will build and refine detailed maps that depict both the reef zones and bottom cover, and will develop new methodology to identify changes in coral reef status, especially bleaching, death and recovery. The global coral reef communities will play an integral role in field verification during the development of these maps.

“Seeing change is the first step in taking responsibility for it,” said Andrew Zolli, vice president for global impact initiatives at Planet. “By putting the most complete, up-to-date picture of the world’s corals in the hands of scientists, conservationists and communities, we hope to accelerate action on the coral crisis before its too late.”

In its first year, the partnership plans to produce the global mosaic, a global community enagement plan and five site-based maps to validate the new image processing and mapping methodology. The five sites were chosen to represent a variety of reef types and status from across the globe and where field verification data are readily available.

  • Heron Island, Great Barrier Reef, Australia
  • Moorea, French Polynesia
  • Lighthouse Reef, Belize
  • Western Hawaii
  • Karimunjawa, Indonesia
Once the five sites are mapped and methodology refined, the partnership intends to scale the water depth, reef wave climate and benthic and geomorphic mapping from sites to regions in 2019 and then the entire globe in 2020. Also in 2019, the use of artificial intelligence will be applied to detect changes on the reefs and alert conservationists and governments to the situation so that resources can be immediately engaged.


Vulcan Inc.
Seattle-based Vulcan Inc. strives to make and leave the world a better place.  Our work focuses on solving some of the world’s biggest challenges facing oceans, climate, conservation, and communities. Our commercial work focuses on thoughtful investing and innovative community development. Vulcan was founded by technologist and philanthropist Paul G. Allen.

For more information visit

Planet is an integrated aerospace and data analytics company that operates history's largest fleet of Earth-imaging satellites, collecting a massive amount of information about our changing planet. Planet is driven by a mission to image all of Earth’s landmass every day, and make global change visible, accessible and actionable. Founded in 2010 by three NASA scientists, Planet designs, builds and operates over 190 satellites, and develops the online software and tools that serves data to users. Decision makers in business, government, and within organizations use Planet's data and machine learning-powered analytics to develop new technologies, drive revenue, power research, and solve our world’s toughest challenges. To learn more visit and follow us on Twitter at @planetlabs.

Carnegie Institution for Science
The Carnegie Institution for Science ( is a private, nonprofit organization headquartered in Washington, D.C., with six research departments throughout the U.S. Since its founding in 1902, the Carnegie Institution has been a pioneering force in basic scientific research. Carnegie scientists are leaders in plant biology, developmental biology, astronomy, materials science, global ecology, and Earth and planetary science.

The Remote Sensing Research Centre, University of Queensland
The Remote Sensing Research Centre use remotely sensed data, field-work and spatial models to measure, map and monitor biophysical properties in terrestrial, atmospheric and aquatic environments to better understand and manage the earth’s environments and resources. Our research provides private and public sector organisations with techniques to transform satellite images into meaningful maps or information from one or many points in time. These results can then be used to better understand where, how and why environments are changing, and to separate natural changes from those produced by humans. Coral Reefs are one of the focus environments of the RSRC, and the team have been developing and applying mapping and monitoring methods for reefs through out the Asia Pacific and the Caribbean.The Remote Sensing Research Centre is located at the School of Earth and Environmental Sciences at The University of Queensland.

Hawai’i Institute of Marine Biology
The mission of the Hawai’i Instititute of Marine Biology (HIMB) is to conduct multi-disciplinary research and education in all aspects of tropical marine biology. HIMB continues to be a world leader in research to understand and converve tropical marine ecosystems. We develop and implement new technologies that advance the informed stewardship of Hawai’s’s marine and coastal biodiversity. HIMB is an independent research unit within the School of Ocean Earth Science and Technology (SOEST) at the University of Hawai’i at Mānoa.

For more information contact:
Vulcan Inc: Janet Greenlee,
Planet: Trevor Hammond,


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