The coral reefs in the Bahamas, Jamaica, and the rest of the Caribbean are among the most biodiverse places on the planet. They’re also disappearing, threatened by everything from climate change to overfishing. A new map visualizes, for the first time, exactly what’s underwater in the area—so local governments can better protect it.
“This is something we couldn’t have done even three or four years ago,” says Steve Schill, lead scientist for the Caribbean division of the Nature Conservancy, the nonprofit that spent the last two years working with partners to stitch together 38,000 satellite images to create the map, because most countries in the area didn’t have detailed maps of their own reefs. “Satellite imagery can be expensive, and getting the expertise to create information from the satellite images is difficult.”
The situation changed in part because of Planet Labs, a startup that launched to make satellite images more affordable and accessible. Planet’s constellation of small satellites also map the entire globe every day, making it easier for the scientists to find images with the right weather conditions to see underwater.