Using cutting-edge technology to assess coral reef bleaching events and recovery rates in Guam and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands

Corals spread across an outcrop, some beautifully purple, others deadly white
Corals across the Pacific are endangered by warming ocean water temperatures, but surveying bleaching event effects quickly has not been easy. (Photo: Laurie Raymundo)

Coral reef ecosystems serve as natural coastal defenses, support local island economies, and are important sources of food for coastal communities. However, an increase in coral bleaching events, and the associated declines of coral cover and diversity, are highly likely as sea surface temperatures continue to rise. Multiple coral bleaching events between 2013 and 2017 have already impacted the reefs of Guam and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, resulting in the loss of more than a third of shallow living-coral cover, with some species groups experiencing greater than 90% mortality. This devastating series of bleaching events strengthened existing partnerships between federal and local agencies and resulted in the mobilization of scarce resources to investigate the impacts of the bleaching events and identify strategies to promote coral reef resilience.

This project seeks to evaluate NASA’s latest remote sensing technology using MiDAR (the Multispectral Imaging, Detection, and Active Reflectance instrument) and fluid-lensing (a technique for imaging through the ocean’s surface) as tools for conducting more rapid assessments of coral bleaching over a wider geographic area.  The results should allow natural resource managers and coral reef scientists to accurately assess the status and condition of shallow marine ecosystems after bleaching events at an unprecedented fine-scale mapping resolution (centimeter scale). These emerging technologies will serve as innovative tools to answer questions about post-bleaching recovery times, impacts to community structure and topographic complexity of coral reefs, and the ability to quickly measure the severity and extent of an event, potentially allowing coral reef managers to monitor bleaching events in real time. Results of this project will inform coral reef managers on how the structure of the reef is affected, which parts of the reef recover faster, and whether existing restoration efforts are successful.





Romina King
Associate Professor of Geography, University of Guam


Ved Chirayath
Research Scientist, NASA Ames Research Center


Laurie Raymundo
UOG Marine Lab
Dave Burdick
Guam Long-term Coral Reef Monitoring Coordinator
Denise Perez
Division of Coastal Resources Management Program
Dave Benavente
Division of Coastal Resources Management Program
Robbie Greene
Chelsa Muna-Brecht
Government of Guam
Janice Castro
Division of Coastal Resources Management Program
Ashton Williams
National Park Service