Novel underwater 3D mapping technologies exist, but are just starting to be used effectively to map, restore and monitor marine ecosystems. My research uses 3D mapping technologies to monitor and restore marine ecosystems. For example, 3D maps can be used to quantify the surface area of coral reefs at millimetric resolution.
To date, my research has improved our capacity to monitor, predict and respond to environmental change impacts. Yet, the oceans are large and we need more data and more people using 3D technologies. Through my work I seek to facilitate the application of 3D technologies underwater by researchers, managers and citizen scientists around the world. Below I talk about some examples of recently published work.
3D map of a bleached reef in the Solitary Islands Marine Park, NSW, Australia – 3D models are large files please allow a couple of minutes for it to load after pressing play – once it is loaded you can use your mouse to move the 3D model (hold your left click mouse button to turn the model, hold your right-click mouse button to pan, use your mouse scroll to zoom)
Mapping reefs in 3D
3D technologies allow us to map, monitor and quantify the three-dimensionality of underwater landscapes and organisms. For the first time we can precisely measure key attributes of ecosystem structure in the field across spatial extents. The data generated from these 3D maps has enormous potential to improve our understanding of how marine ecosystems work, how they are impacted by multiple threats, and how we can increase the probabilities of success of conservation initiatives.
Predicting ecosystem trajectory in future environmental scenarios
3D technologies are orders of magnitude more accurate and precise than current methodologies used to study marine ecosystems. This is important because they can be used to quantify habitat attributes driving ecological processes and ecosystem trajectories. We can use 3D technologies to improve predictions of what and how an ecosystem, like the Great Barrier Reef, will change over time. If we can precisely understand how an ecosystem will change as a consequence of an impact, such as climate change, we will be better equipped to manage it and promote its adaptation.
3D terrain reconstruction of a reef area (~300 m2) on Heron reef at Pam’s Point, Great Barrier Reef, Australia, Jan 2016 – 3D models are large files please allow a couple of minutes for it to load after pressing play – once it is loaded you can use your mouse to move the 3D model (hold your left click mouse button to turn the model, hold your right-click mouse button to pan, use your mouse scroll to zoom)
3D Reefs and habitat restoration
Habitat restoration has been somewhat successful in helping coral reefs adapt to environmental change. However, the success of current artificial reefs is limited by the failure to repair ecological structure and function of natural reefs.
Novel 3D technologies capable of reconstructing habitat structural complexity of underwater seascapes have not yet been used to effectively restore marine ecosystems that have been severely impacted by bleaching. If artificial reefs provided the same level of 3D structure than natural reefs, their capacity to repair ecological structure and function would significantly increase.
3D model of a corymbose coral from Palau, Micronesia, 2015
One of my research projects is testing the use of 3D printed virtual 3D models (created from natural reefs) to improve coral reef restoration. This is a multidisciplinary project that involves experts in design and architecture, as well as experts in coral reef restoration and underwater 3D printing. See collaborations for more info.