Chasing Coral is now on Netflix – A Powerful Film to See and Share

Please credit The Ocean Agency - XL Catlin Seaview Survey - Richard Vevers & Christophe Bailhache
Coral Bleaching and its Aftermath – a scene from Chasing Coral. Credit: The Ocean Agency – XL Catlin Seaview Survey – Richard Vevers & Christophe Bailhache

Several of the coral reef scientists featured in the film Chasing Coral are CRESCYNT participants, including our PI, Dr Ruth D Gates, and we congratulate and thank them all for their eloquence, passion, deep experience, scientific integrity, and significant intellectual contributions to this powerful film. Chasing Coral‘s producers are making it available free for public screenings, and its focus now is educating audiences and moving people to action.

It’s not too late for coral reefs…  indeed, for many other ecosystems that are facing challenges from climate change. It’s still possible to reduce the rate at which the climate is changing, and that’s within our power today.” – Dr Ove Hoegh-Guldberg
Chasing Coral is now on Netflix – A Powerful Film to See and Share

CRESCYNT at EarthCube All Hands Meeting 2017

EarthCube domain scientists, computer scientists, data scientists, and new members gathered in Seattle June 7-9, 2017 to communicate progress, connect over projects and science challenges, plan for future collaborative work, and welcome new participants.

Most of the presentations and posters from the meeting are available here. CRESCYNT program manager Ouida Meier delivered an invited talk on sci-tech matchmaking (video|slides, helped facilitate breakout sessions focused on clarifying requirements and resources for virtual workbenches (summary), and presented CRESCYNT coral reef use cases and workflow collaboration during a poster session. Discussion and collective brainstorming throughout the meeting was very dynamic and fruitful.


Download a larger pdf of the CRESCYNT poster – Earth Cube AHM 2017.

Read more EarthCube in the News.

CRESCYNT at EarthCube All Hands Meeting 2017

Resources for Coral Reef Education – by Judy Lemus

divers_lpittman_pixabay.jpgWe all recognize that communication and education about science concepts and the process of science is more important than ever.  Fortunately, coral reefs are charismatic ecosystems that inspire much curiosity, concern, and interest from many sectors of society.  While there is no shortage of stunning images and videos online, resources that combine these visuals with robust educational content can be more challenging to identify; they do exist and I’ve put together some of my favorites here. The list is not exhaustive, and we welcome your suggestions for great additions.

EDUCATIONAL WEBSITES. These resources provide educational information about coral reefs across multiple levels and concepts, often using multimedia.

Khaled bin Sultan Living Oceans Foundation Coral Reef Ecology Curriculum. The KSLOF has perhaps the most comprehensive website on coral reef ecology. The site is set up as a course with several units and resources with very nice graphics and high quality videos geared specifically for students and teachers. Lessons are aligned with the Next Generation Science Standards, Ocean Literacy Principles, and Common Core State Standards for K-12, but some of the material could easily be used in a college level course. A major downside to this site is that one must register to use it.

Smithsonian Ocean Portal. The Smithsonian’s website for coral and coral reefs is not as media-rich as the KSLOF, but does have a great deal of scientific information about corals.  Only a couple of lesson plans are offered, but the richness of the content lies in the embedded links to additional images and other stories. The science is backed up with oversight by Smithsonian coral reef biologist Nancy Knowlton.

MarineBio Coral Reefs. The MarineBio website is somewhat of a clearinghouse for other marine bio resources, but the educational content on coral reefs is good quality and quite extensive if you follow the links.  Like the Smithsonian site, there are links to both internal and external resources. The short videos featured throughout the site, generally from outside sources, are particularly engaging.


National Ocean Service

NOAA Coral Reef Conservation Program

USGS Coral Reef Project

Coral Reef Alliance

Teach Ocean Science


Great Barrier Reef Foundation

Coral Triangle Initiative

Endangered Reefs, Threatened People

Coral Health Atlas

VIDEOS ABOUT CORALS AND CORAL REEFS. There are loads of videos of corals and coral reefs on the web; these excellent examples incorporate educational content.

Catlin Seaview

Chasing Coral (available through Netflix)

Climate Change: Coral Reefs on the Edge

Exploring the Coral Reef: Learn about Oceans for Kids

Corals Under Confocal

Coral bleaching caused by heating water (time-lapse)

Life Noggin – What Happens if All the Coral Dies? (animation)

Coral Bleaching Animation – HHMI BioInteractive Video (animation)

Coral Bleaching on the Great Barrier Reef (animation)

SCIENCE NEWS SITES. These science news websites regularly post stories on coral reefs.



Thanks to Dr. Judy Lemus for this cream-of-the-crop list. Judy is a Faculty Specialist in Science Education at the Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology; fortunately for us, she is also the Education Node Leader for CRESCYNT. You can download Judy’s list in pdf format.

Resources for Coral Reef Education – by Judy Lemus

CRESCYNT Toolbox – Workflows as Collaboration Space and Workbench Blueprint

puzzle-juggling_pixabayScientists need better ways to analyze and integrate their data and collaborate with other scientists; new computing technologies and tools can help with this. However, it’s difficult to overcome the challenge of disparate perspectives and the absence of a common vocabulary: this is true of multidisciplinary science teams, and true when scientists try to talk with computer scientists. Workflows, as a way to help design and implement a workbench, are needed both as a collaboration space and a blueprint for implementation.

Take a look at a recent presentation to the EarthCube science committee (video) or an earlier presentation offered at ASLO 2017 (slides and voice) to see a flexible and low-tech way to simultaneously (1) facilitate necessary sci-tech interactions for your own lab and (2) begin to sketch out a blueprint for work that needs to be done. Subsequent technical implementation is possible with new tools including Common Workflow Language (CWL) as a set of specifications, Dockers as modular and sharable containers for either fully developed tools or small pieces of code, and Nextflow as an efficient and highly scalable definitive software language to make the computational work happen. Look for a post in the near future by Mahdi Belcaid to describe the technical implementation of these workflows.

OPPORTUNITY! We will be hosting one or two in-person skills training workshops in the coming months, with your expenses covered by our NSF EarthCube CRESCYNT grant, focused particularly on training early career professionals, and will work through some challenging coral reef use cases and their cyberinfrastructure needs. We collected some great use cases at ICRS, but would like additional cases to consider, so we invite you to describe your own research challenges through this google form. Please contact us for more on this, or other issues. Thanks!

CRESCYNT Toolbox – Workflows as Collaboration Space and Workbench Blueprint

3D Mapping of Coral Reefs – How to Get Started – by John Burns

Rapid technological advancements are providing a suite of new tools that can help advance ecological and biological studies of coral reefs. I’ve studied coral health and disease for the last several years. One large gap in our research approach is the ability to connect changes in coral health to large-scale ecological processes. I knew that when corals died from disease it would alter the fundamental habitat of the system, which in turn would impact associated reef organisms. What I didn’t know was how to effectively document and quantify these changes. Sometimes we just need to alter our perspective to find the answers we are looking for. I starting reviewing methods used by terrestrial researchers to measure landscape changes associated with landslides and erosion. In doing so I came across structure-from-motion (SfM) photogrammetry, and it was immediately clear that this technique could improve our understanding of coral reef ecosystems. I spent the next few years developing methods to use this approach underwater, and have since used SfM to detect changes in reef structure associated with disturbances as well as improve our understanding of coral diseases.

The first question I am usually asked is, “How easy is it to use this technique and what does it cost?” The best answer I can provide is the logistic constraints depend on your research question. If you are interested in accuracy and controlling the parameters of the 3D reconstruction process, then you should use proprietary software like Agisoft PhotoScan and Pix4D. These programs give you full control, yet require more understanding of photogrammetry and substantial computing power. Autodesk ReCap can process images remotely, which reduces the need for a powerful computer, but also reduces your control over the 3D reconstruction process. At the most simple level, you can download the Autodesk 123D catch app on your phone and create 3D reconstructions in minutes! There are also multiple open-source software options, but they tend to be less powerful and lack a graphical user interface. My advice is to start small. Get started with some simple and free open source tools such as Visual SfM or Bundler. Collect a few sets of images and get some experience with the processing steps to determine if the model outputs are applicable for your research approach.

The second question I receive is, “What is the best way to collect the images?” Unfortunately, the answer is not to use the ‘auto’ setting on your camera and just take a bunch of pictures. Image quality will directly affect the resolution of your model, and is also important for stitching and spatial accuracy. Spend time to understand the principles of underwater photography. A medium aperture (f-stop of 8 to 11) will let in enough light in ambient conditions while not causing blur and distortion associated with depth of field. Since images are taken while moving through a scene, a high enough shutter speed is required that will eliminate blur and dark images. Since conditions can be highly variable, one must adapt to changes in light and underwater visibility while in the field. Cameras with auto-ISO can be helpful for dealing with changing light conditions while surveying. I also recommend DSLR or mirrorless cameras with high-quality fixed lenses, as they will minimize distortion and optimize overall resolution and clarity. For large areas I won’t use strobes because I take images from large distances off the reef, and this will typically create shadows in the images. I take images of the reef from both planar and oblique angles to capture as much of the reef scene as possible in order to eliminate ‘black holes’ in the resulting model. There is no ‘perfect approach,’ but you will need 70-80% overlap for accurate reconstruction. I swim in circular or lawn-mower patterns depending on the scene, and swear by the mantra that more is better (you can always throw out images later if there is too much overlap). It is worth investing time in experimenting with methods to develop a technique that works best for your study are and experimental design. SfM is a very flexible and dynamic tool, so don’t be afraid to create your own methods.

The third question is then, “How do you ground-truth the model for spatial accuracy?” This is a critical step that often gets overlooked. In order to achieve mm-scale accuracy the software must be able to rectify the model to known x,y,z coordinates. I use mailbox reflectors connected by PVC pipe to create ground control points (GCPs) with known distances. The red color and white outline of the reflectors is easily distinguished and identified by the software and saves a lot of time for optimizing the coordinates of the model. Creating functional GCPs is exceptionally important is spatial accuracy is required for your work. I also use several scale bars throughout my reef plots to check accuracy and scaling. This step of the process is critical for accurately measuring 3D habitat characteristics.

Maybe I’ve taken you too far into technical details at this point, but hopefully this helps for anyone looking to venture into the world of SfM. There is no perfect approach, and we must be adaptable as software continues to improve and new tools are constantly being created. We also need to continue to develop new methods for quantifying structure from 3D models. I export my models into geospatial software to extract structural information, but this step of the process can be improved with methods capable of annotating the true 3D surface of the models. As new software becomes available for annotating 3D surfaces we are entering an exciting phase with endless possibilities for collating and visualizing multiple forms of data. Being open-minded and creative with these techniques may provide new insight into how these environments function, and how we can protect them in the face of global stressors.
– Mahalo to John Burns for this in-depth guest posting. You can see more of his work, simultaneously beautiful and useful, at the Coral Health Atlas. Click below for more of John’s remarkable 3D coral reef mapping work:
3D Mapping of Coral Reefs – How to Get Started – by John Burns