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Pacific Coastal & Marine Science Center

USGS Pacific Coral Reefs Website

Photo of coral reef.  

Mapping Coral Reefs

The Problem

Image showing benthic habitats off Molokai.

Oblique onshore view of sea floor characterization map off Puʻukoholā Heiau National Historic Site and Kawaihae Harbor, Hawaiʻi. [larger version]

One of the strategic goals of the USGS Pacific Coral Reefs Project is to assist land-use managers in their protection efforts by establishing the geologic framework for ecosystem structure and function. Mapping of coral reefs provides important information about a number of reef characteristics, such as overall structure and morphology, abundance and distribution of living coral, and distribution and types of sediment.

To document evidence of change in any ecosystem, one must first have a starting point—a "baseline" inventory of resources. Thematic maps providing this baseline inventory are an important tool for assessing changes in coral reef ecosystems, allowing scientists to spatially document changes in coral location, percentage of cover, and relative overall health of the system. In the past two decades, scientists and managers have recognized the lack of thematic maps for coral reefs worldwide.

No single mapping approach is effective for evaluating the overall health of a reef or to determine the cause of its demise. It is only through combining techniques that scientists can establish the most complete view of a reef, one that can be used for evaluating current reef health and providing a baseline to detect future change.

The Approach

Eric and Hank readying the camera systems.

Photograph of USGS researchers preparing vertical-drop and oblique-towed video camera systems on F/V Alyce C to collect digital imagery for ground-truthing habitat maps derived from remotely-sensed data.

We first aim to identify innovative mapping methodologies to find the most efficient methods of mapping and remote sensing that can be used to address coral reef issues of distribution, morphology, benthic cover, and history of existing U.S. coral reef systems in the Pacific Basin. We then conduct scientific mapping of critical coral reef environments, including pristine reefs, sediment- or pollutant-impacted reefs, or those of special significance and concern such as reefs in State or National Parks, National Wildlife Refuges, or National Marine Sanctuaries. Our goals are to determine the spatial variability of the following parameters at high resolution:

  1. Reef tract structure, including overall morphology, rugosity, and complexity
  2. Benthic habitat, including bottom type (for example, limestone or volcanic pavement, sand, mud), bottom cover (for example, coral, algae, macroalgae), and biodiversity
  3. Transitions between colonized coral reef habitat and adjacent depauperate environments
Sample image from a screen grab from the underwater video camera.

Geo-referenced underwater image of Porites species corals and navigation information from a digital-towed camera system during a ground-truthing cruise in Kaloko-Honokōhau National Historical Park, Hawaiʻi.

The approach to these efforts relies on a combination of field measurements and laboratory studies in order to characterize coral reef habitats. We use a wide range of tools, including in-water observations made by scuba divers, high-resolution bathymetry from airborne LIDAR (LIght Detecting And Ranging, e.g., laser range-finding), airborne and space-based multispectral remote sensing imagery, underwater towed digital photo/video mapping systems, and swath acoustic seabed mapping systems.

Products

Journal Articles

Cochran, S.A., 2013, Aerial Photography Application, in Goodman, J.A., Purkis, S.J., and Phinn, S.T., eds., Coral reef remote sensing; A guide for mapping, monitoring and management; Chapter 2: New York, Springer, p. 29-49, ISBN 978-90-481-9291-5.

Rogers, J.S., Monismith, S.G., Feddersen, F., and Storlazzi, C.D., 2013, Hydrodynamics of spur and groove formations on a coral reef: Journal of Geophysical Research - Oceans, v. 118, p. 3059-3073, doi:10.1002/jgrc.20225.

Gibbs, A.E., and Cochran, S.A., 2011, Seafloor morphology and coral habitat variability in a volcanic environment; Kaloko-Honokohau National Park, Hawaiʻi, USA, in Harris, P.T., and Baker, E.K., eds., Seafloor geomorphology as benthic habitat; GeoHab atlas of seafloor geomorphic features and benthic habitats, Elsevier [Elsevier Insights e-book series], p. 409-423.

Logan, J.B., Field, M.E, and Chavez, P.S., 2011, Bathymetry and selected views of the fringing coral reef, South Molokaʻi, Hawaiʻi, in Kataoka, M., ed., ESRI Map Book: Redlands, CA, ESRI Press, v., 26, p. 70-71.

Gibbs, A.E., and Cochran, S.A., 2009, An integrated approach to benthic habitat mapping using remote sensing and GIS; An example from the Hawaiian Islands, in Yang, X., ed., Remote sensing and geospatial technologies for coastal ecosystem assessment and management, Springer-Verlag Press, p. 211-231.

D'Iorio, M., Jupiter, S.D., Cochran, S.A., and Potts, D.C., 2007, Optimizing remote sensing and GIS tools for mapping and managing the distribution of an invasive mangrove (Rhizophora mangle) on south Molokai, Hawaii: Marine Geodesy, v. 30, no. 1-2, p. 125-144, doi:10.1080/01490410701296663.

Grossman, E.E., Barnhardt, W.A., Hart, P., Richmond, B.M., and Field, M.E., 2006, Shelf stratigraphy and the influence of antecedent substrate on Holocene reef development, south Oahu, Hawaii: Marine Geology, v. 226, no. 1-2, p. 97-114, doi:10.1016/j.margeo.2005.09.012.

Barnhardt, W.A., Richmond, B.M., Grossman, E.E., and Hart, P., 2005, Possible modes of coral-reef development at Molokai, Hawaii, inferred from seismic-reflection profiling: Geo-Marine Letters, v. 25, no. 5, p. 315-323, doi:10.1007/s00367-005-0214-5.

Brown, E.K., Cox, E., Jokiel, P.L., Rogers, S.K., Smith, W.R., Tissot, B., Coles, S.L., and Hultquist, J., 2004, Development of benthic sampling methods for the Coral Reef Assessment and Monitoring Program (CRAMP) in Hawaiʻi: Pacific Science, v. 58, no. 2, p. 145-158, doi:10.1353/psc.2004.0013.

Jokiel, P.L., Brown, E.K., Friedlander, A., Rodgers, S.K., and Smith, W.R., 2004, Hawaiʻi Coral Reef Assessment and Monitoring Program; Spatial patterns and temporal dynamics in reef coral communities: Pacific Science, v. 58, no. 2, p. 159-174, doi:10.1353/psc.2004.0018.

Storlazzi, C.D., Logan, J.B., and Field, M.E., 2003, Quantitative morphology of a fringing reef from high-resolution laser bathymetry: Southern Molokai, Hawaii: Geological Society of America Bulletin, v. 115, no. 11, p. 1344-1355, doi:10.1130/B25200.1.

USGS Reports

Gibbs, A.E., Cochran, S.A., and Tierney, P.W., 2013, Seafloor video footage and still frame-grabs from U.S. Geological Survey cruises in Hawaiian nearshore waters: U.S. Geological Survey Data Series 735, 11 p.

Richmond, B.M., Cochran, S.A., and Gibbs, A.E., 2009, Geologic resource evaluation of Kaloko-Honokōhau National Historical Park, Hawaiʻi; Geology and coastal landforms: U.S. Geological Survey Open-File Report 2008-1191, p. 28.

Richmond, B.M., Cochran, S.A., and Gibbs, A.E., 2009, Geologic resource evaluation of Puʻukoholā Heiau National Historic Site, Hawaiʻi; Part I, Geology and coastal landforms: U.S. Geological Survey Open-File Report 2008-1190, p. 23.

Richmond, B.M., Cochran, S.A., and Gibbs, A.E., 2009, Geologic resource evaluation of Puʻuhonua O Hōnaunau National Historical Park, Hawaiʻi; Part I, Geology and coastal landforms: U.S. Geological Survey Open-File Report 2008-1192, p. 23.

U.S. Geological Survey, 2009, Science-based strategies for sustaining coral ecosystems: U.S. Geological Survey Fact Sheet 2009-3089, 4 p.

Barnhardt, W.A., Grossman, E.E., and Richmond, B.M., 2008, Antecedent substrate underlying the South Molokaʻi fringing reef and implications for reef development, in Field, M.E., Cochran, S.A., Logan, J.B., and Storlazzi, C.D., eds., The coral reef of south Molokaʻi, Hawaiʻi; Portrait of a sediment-threatened fringing reef, U.S. Geological Survey Scientific Investigations Report, 2007-5101, p. 13-15.

Brown, E.K., Jokiel, P.L., Rodgers, K., Smith, W.R., and Roberts, L.M., 2008, The status of the reefs along south Molokaʻi; Five years of monitoring, in Field, M.E., Cochran, S.A., Logan, J.B., and Storlazzi, C.D., eds., The coral reef of south Molokaʻi, Hawaiʻi; Portrait of a sediment-threatened fringing reef, U.S. Geological Survey Scientific Investigations Report, 2007-5101, p. 51-58.

Cochran, S.A., 2008, Benthic habitat maps of the south Molokaʻi coral reef, in Field, M.E., Cochran, S.A., Logan, J.B., and Storlazzi, C.D., eds., The coral reef of south Molokaʻi, Hawaiʻi; Portrait of a sediment-threatened fringing reef, U.S. Geological Survey Scientific Investigations Report, 2007-5101, p. 77-97.

D'Iorio, M.M., 2008, Invasive mangroves and coastal change on Molokaʻi, in Field, M.E., Cochran, S.A., Logan, J.B., and Storlazzi, C.D., eds., The coral reef of south Molokaʻi, Hawaiʻi; Portrait of a sediment-threatened fringing reef, U.S. Geological Survey Scientific Investigations Report, 2007-5101, p. 129-134.

Engels, M.S., and Fletcher, C.H., 2008, Molokaʻi - Two different types of reef growth in the past 8,000 years, in Field, M.E., Cochran, S.A., Logan, J.B., and Storlazzi, C.D., eds., The coral reef of south Molokaʻi, Hawaiʻi; Portrait of a sediment-threatened fringing reef, U.S. Geological Survey Scientific Investigations Report, 2007-5101, p. 37-40.

Field, M.E., Cochran, S.A., Logan, J.B., and Storlazzi, C.D., 2008, The south Molokaʻi reef; Origin, history and status, in Field, M.E., Cochran, S.A., Logan, J.B., and Storlazzi, C.D., eds., The coral reef of south Molokaʻi, Hawaiʻi; Portrait of a sediment-threatened fringing reef, U.S. Geological Survey Scientific Investigations Report, 2007-5101, p. 3-10.

Field, M.E., Cochran, S.A., Logan, J.B., and Storlazzi, C.D., eds., 2008, The coral reef of south Molokaʻi, Hawaiʻi; Portrait of a sediment-threatened reef, U.S. Geological Survey Scientific Investigations Report 2007-5101, 180 p.

Field, M.E., Logan, J.B., Chavez, P.S. Jr., Storlazzi, C.D., and Cochran, S.A., 2008, Views of the south Molokaʻi watershed-to-reef system, in Field, M.E., Cochran, S.A., Logan, J.B., and Storlazzi, C.D., eds., The coral reef of south Molokaʻi, Hawaiʻi; Portrait of a sediment-threatened fringing reef, U.S. Geological Survey Scientific Investigations Report, 2007-5101, p. 17-31.

Jokiel, P.L., E.K., Brown, Rogers, S.K., and Smith, W.R., 2008, Reef corals and the coral reefs of south Molokaʻi, in Field, M.E., Cochran, S.A., Logan, J.B., and Storlazzi, C.D., eds., The coral reef of south Molokaʻi, Hawaiʻi; Portrait of a sediment-threatened fringing reef, U.S. Geological Survey Scientific Investigations Report, 2007-5101, p. 43-50.

Storlazzi, C.D., Logan, J.B., and Field, M.E, 2008, Shape of the south Molokaʻi fringing reef; trends and variation, in Field, M.E., Cochran, S.A., Logan, J.B., and Storlazzi, C.D., eds., The coral reef of south Molokaʻi, Hawaiʻi; Portrait of a sediment-threatened fringing reef, U.S. Geological Survey Scientific Investigations Report, 2007-5101, p. 33-36.

Cochran, S.A., Gibbs, A.E., and Logan, J.B., 2007, Geologic Resource Evaluation - Puʻuhonua O Hōnaunau National Historical Park; Part II - Benthic habitat mapping: U.S. Geological Survey Scientific Investigations Report 2006-5258, 22 p.

Cochran, S.A., Gibbs, A.E., and Logan, J.B., 2007, Geologic Resource Evaluation - Puʻukoholā Heiau National Historic Site; Part II - Benthic habitat mapping: U.S. Geological Survey Scientific Investigations Report 2006-5254, 20 p.

Gibbs, A.E., Cochran, S.A., Logan, J.B., and Grossman, E.E., 2007, Benthic habitats and offshore geological resources of Kaloko-Honokōhau National Historical Park: U.S. Geological Survey Scientific Investigations Report 2006-5256, 62 p.

Cochran-Marquez, S.A., 2005, Molokaʻi benthic habitat mapping: U.S. Geological Survey Open-File Report 2005-1070, 18 p.

Gibbs, A.E., Grossman, E.E., and Richmond, B.M., 2005, Summary and preliminary interpretations of USGS cruise A-2-02-HW; Underwater video surveys collected off of Oʻahu, Molokai, and Maui, Hawaii, June-July 2002: U.S. Geological Survey Open-File Report 2005-1244, 57 p.

Hapke, C.J., Gmirkin, R., and Richmond, B.M., 2005, Coastal Change Rates and Patterns: Kaloko-Honokohau National Historical Park, Hawaiʻi: U.S. Geological Survey Open-File Report 2005-1069, 28 p.

Logan, J.B., Field, M.E., and Chavez, P.S., 2005, Bathymetry and selected views of the fringing coral reef, south Molokaʻi, Hawaiʻi: U.S. Geological Survey Scientific Investigations Map 2886.

Rodgers, K.S., Jokiel, P.L., Smith, W.R., Farrell, F., and Uchino, K., 2005, Biological survey in support of the USGS turbidity and sediment baseline survey on south Molokaʻi reef flat, April 2005: U.S. Geological Survey Open-File Report 2005-1361, 35 p.

Cochran, S.A., Roberts, L.M., and Evans, K.R., 2002, Molokaʻi fieldtrip guidebook; Selected aspects of the geology, geography, and coral reefs of Molokaʻi: U.S. Geological Survey Open-File Report 02-158, 62 p.

Field, M.E., Chavez, P.S., Evans, K.R., and Cochran, S.A., 2001, New mapping techniques help assess the health of Hawaiʻi's coral reefs: U.S. Geological Survey Fact Sheet 084-01, 4 p.

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