MERMAID: new advancements in monitoring coral reef health — There’s a common misperception that nature got a break from humans during the pandemic. In fact, it has been quite the opposite. Coral reefs continue to suffer dramatically due to climate change; specifically coral bleaching, spiked by extreme ocean heat waves, ocean acidification and the rise in sea levels is taking a huge toll on these underwater gardens.
Until recently, there was no systematic option for tracking changes in reef health, or widely sharing these changes amongst the scientific community and affected governments. In 2016, global geospatial experts Sparkgeo partnered with the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and World Wildlife Fund (WWF) to develop, pilot and implement a technological solution: the Marine Ecological Research Management AID (MERMAID). An advancement on this platform will be launched in 2022, with a new release of the MERMAID web app–a major engineering initiative that is faster, more reliable, easier to maintain, more intuitive, and future-proof.
The team from Sparkgeo, WCS, and WWF built the MERMAID platform to accelerate the collection of critical underwater data on coral reef health, which previously took months or even years to standardize and analyze. Now, when scientists emerge from monitoring the reefs post dive, MERMAID enables them to upload the data they’ve gathered underwater, quickly sorts and cleans the data and standardizes species. The information is then stored centrally and securely in the cloud for use by field scientists on location, and policy makers.
“MERMAID uses cutting-edge open-source technology and makes it easier to get the data collected by scientists back into the hands of communities,” says Dr. Emily Darling, Director of Coral Reef Conservation at WCS. “The platform gets us closer to our vision: a world where coordination and collaboration support rapid, evidence-based decision making to protect and manage coral reefs.”
Providing this data to decision makers using cutting-edge cloud technology is transforming coral reef conservation. For the first time, marine scientists have been able to gather, analyze and share field-based reef data on an open-source platform. MERMAID provides instant access to updated data in forms, making data products like charts and maps a matter of minutes, not days.
“We’re providing timely, accurate, and understandable information on coral reef health for scientists to inform governments and organizations like WCS and WWF,” says Will Cadell, CEO of Sparkgeo. “The information tells us: Is conservation working? Are reefs recovering? What reefs are the most threatened or healthy? How can conservation help reefs adapt to a changing climate?”
With MERMAID, scientific knowledge is brought quickly and directly into the hands of the people on the front lines who are poised to take action to protect reefs in the upcoming global biodiversity negotiations in Kunming, China planned for early 2022. MERMAID’s new global dashboard also democratizes coral reef data, letting anyone from anywhere around the world pull up a map of the globe’s reefs to get a quick, simple snapshot of how reefs are surviving.
“Working on impactful environmental projects is at the essence of what makes Sparkgeo go round,” shares Cadell. “We love geospatial work, and the fact that what we do can support climate change efforts is a huge part of why we do what we do. We are walking our walk by partnering with groups like WCS and WWF; this is our planet and we love it.”
At Sparkgeo, we provide geospatial expertise to companies. Our obsessive focus on geospatial technology makes us somewhat unique. In fact, most of our work has been with other technology companies who look to us as leaders in this field, combining our team’s expertise with their in-house team. We’re curious, listen carefully, are platform-agnostic, and afford critical value to our clients.
About WCS (Wildlife Conservation Society)
For more than 70 years WCS has been underwater studying coral reefs. Today there is a global crisis for coral reefs facing pressures from climate change, pollution, unsustainable tourism, and destructive fishing. From Kenya to Belize, Mozambique to Cuba, WCS is conserving reef biodiversity hotspots and supporting communities who depend on reefs to survive. We currently work across 16 countries to protect coral reefs and ensure that they can continue to provide for the people and species that rely on them.