The world’s reefs are in a dramatic state of decline - over 40% of corals have been lost over the last 30 years due to pollution, destructive fishing practices, ocean warming and ocean acidification resulting from a changing climate. According to the scientific community the decline is set to continue, it will affect 500 million people globally who rely on coral reefs for food, tourism income and coastal protection.

In response, GCI researchers are creating a baseline record of the world’s coral reefs, in high-resolution 360-degree vision through the XL Catlin Seaview Survey. It will enable change to be clearly monitored over time and will help scientists, policy makers and the public to see and understand the issues facing reefs and work out what needs to be done to best protect coral reefs now and into the future.


The start of the survey

The XL Catlin Seaview Survey began in September 2012 on the iconic Great Barrier Reef. The team surveyed 150 km of reef with a custom-built, motorised underwater camera, known as SVII. Already some 105,000 GPS-located, panoramic images are ready for analysis by marine scientists around the globe. The images can be accessed by anyone through the online database – the XL Catlin Global Reef Record.

The study was far more than just a visual record of the shallow reefs. Its aim was to create a broad-scale baseline record of the reef system, studying it across its full depth range down to 125 m. Researchers have even discovered reef coral at greater depths than previously known. Some surprising discoveries have been made on reefs at the Great Barrier Reef and in the Coral Sea. Now the survey has now gone global. 

The Global Plan

Following the successful Great Barrier Reef and Coral Sea surveys, the project is now being rolled out globally thanks to the ongoing support of founding sponsor, global insurance group - XL Catlin Group Limited. The aim is to carry out a rapid assessment of reefs and other oceanic environments around the world and create a scientific baseline record with which to monitor global change.

In 2013 the team focussed on the coral reefs of the Caribbean and Bermuda, while in 2014 the major campaign area was the waters of South-East Asia. The team has recorded additional survey areas including the Galapagos Islands, and temperate water locations including Monaco and Sydney. The reefs of the Indian Ocean are the next to be surveyed.

XL Catlin Global Reef Record

The XL Catlin Global Reef Record is a research tool aimed at collating and communicating the coral reef science of the Xl Catlin Seaview Survey and combining that information with data from other leading sources of ocean research. This free database provides scientists across various disciplines of marine studies with a tool for analysing the current state of the reef ecosystems on a local, regional and global scale and monitoring changes that occur over time.

It has been designed in partnership with our scientists, with additional data and analysis from World Resources Institute, Scripps Institution of Oceanography and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

The record is not just for scientists. It is for everyone, from policymakers to the general public. For the first time in history, ocean change will be made plainly visible for all to see – we are working with partners to ensure that the images in the record are revealed to as many people in the world as possible.

Research Papers

BONGAERTS, P., FRADE, P.R., HAY K.B., ENGLEBERT, N., LATIJNHOUWERS, K.R.W., BAK, R.P.M., HOEGH-GULDBERG, O., (2015) Deep down on a Caribbean reef: lower mesophotic depths harbor a specialized coral-endosymbiont community. Marine Biodiversity 5: 7652. doi:10.1038/srep07652

GONZÁLEZ-RIVERO, M., BONGAERTS, P., BEIJBOM, O,. PIZARRO, O., FRIEDMAN, A,. RODRIGUEZ-RAMIREZ, A,. UPCROFT, B., LAFFOLEY, D,. KLINE, D,. BAILHACHE, C,. VEVERS, R,. HOEGH-GULDBERG, O,. (2014) The Catlin Seaview Survey - kilometre-scale seascape assessment, and monitoring of coral reef ecosystems. Aquatic Conservation: Marine and Freshwater Ecosystems, 24 (Suppl. 2): 184-198.

ENGLEBERT, N., BONGAERTS, P., MUIR, P., HAY, K. B., HOEGH-GULDBERG, O. (2014) Deepest zooxanthellae corals of the Great Barrier Reef and Coral Sea. Marine Biodiversity. DOI: 10.1007/s12526-014-0221-8

BONGAERTS, P., MUIR, P., ENGLEBERT, N., BRIDGE, T.C.L., HOEGH-GULDBERG, O. (2013) Cyclone damage at mesophotic depths on Myrmidon Reef (GBR). Coral Reefs, 32 (4), 935 - 935.

MUIR, P., WALLCACE, C., BRIDGE, T.C.L., BONGAERTS, P. (2015) Diverse Staghorn Coral Fauna on the Mesophotic Reefs of North-East Australia. PLOS One, 10 2: . doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0117933

PANTOS, O., BONGAERTS, P., DENNIS, P.G., TYSON, G.W., HOEGH-GULDBERG, O. (2015) Habitat-specific environmental conditions primarily control the microbiomes of the coral Seriatopora hystrixThe ISME Journal, 1-12. doi:10.1038/ismej.2015.3

BONGAERTS, P., CARMICHAEL, M., HAY, K.B., TONK, L., FRADE, P.R. HOEGH-GULDBERG, O. (2015) Prevalent endosymbiont zonation shapes the depth distributions of scleractinian coral species. R. Soc. open sci. 2: 140297.

FERRARI, R., MCKINNON, D., He, H., SMITH, R., CORKE, P., GONZALEZ-RIVERRO, M., MUMBY, P.J., and UPCROFT, B., (2016) Quantifying multiscale habitat structural complexity: a cost-effective framework for underwater 3D modelling. Remote Sensing, 8 2: 113.1-113.21. doi:10.3390/rs8020113

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