About Reefscape

The Reefscape Project explores coral reefs at new biogeographic scales for science, conservation, management, and resource policy. The project is a multifaceted initiative combining extensive field work, high-tech remote sensing from the Carnegie Airborne Observatory and satellites, plus science communication and community outreach. Here you can find descriptions of our current missions.


The search for survivors in a post-nuclear reefscape

On the morning of March 1, 1954, the United States tested its largest thermonuclear bomb over Bikini Atoll in the Marshall Islands. Code-named “Castle Bravo”, the explosion was more than 1,000 times more powerful than the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs that had ended World War II a decade earlier. The Castle Bravo test surprised its engineers, yielding twice as much power as had been predicted, and a massive fireball that destroyed three neighboring islands and contaminated 18,000 square kilometers (7,000 square miles) of ocean with radioactive fallout to the east of Bikini. Directly in the path of the Castle Bravo fallout was Rongelap Atoll, where radioactive debris up to 2.5 centimeters (1 inch) deep was deposited on the atoll’s small islands and extensive coral reefs. Keep reading here!

Bold Initiative Aims to Protect Coral Reefs in the Dominican Republic

A new and unique marine protected area, the Southeast Marine Sanctuary, has recently been declared, covering 786,300 hectares of reef environment, thus making it one of the largest protected areas in the Caribbean. The marine sanctuary will be divided into two zones, each to be co-managed by a diverse group of stakeholders organized into a nonprofit. The structure of its oversight – a collaboration among numerous stakeholders, from the federal government to local fishermen and from environmental groups to hotel associations – makes this new marine sanctuary remarkable. Continue reading the article here!


Interested in coral reef spatial science, conservation and communication? We're expanding our team! Open positions can be found on the Carnegie Institution's jobs website and are organized by project and geographic scale and technologies:  Global Coral Reef Monitoring with Satellites (multiple positions),  Hyperspectral Remote Sensing of Coral Reefs (postdoctoral position), and Field and Lab Technician for Coral Reef Science.


Global Reef Mapping Partnership

Our remote sensing and field researchers have combined forces with Paul Allen's Vulcan engineers, University of Queensland and University of Hawaii scientists, and engineers from Planet Inc to develop the world's first global coral reef monitoring system. The project will roll out in phases from 2018 to 2020 and will allow for the first-ever detection of coral bleaching throughout the world's coral reef ecosystems. Watch this space for updates!Partners: Vulcan Inc., Planet Inc., University of Queensland, Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology

Global CoralSpec

CoralSpec, which is short for Coral Spectranomics, is a project to develop a spectral and chemical library of the critical, habitat-forming coral species of our planet. This project aims to visit as many coral reefs as possible to collect field-based spectral measurements and samples for subsequent chemical analyses in our laboratory. This global field program is designed to increase the mapping capability of the Carnegie Airborne Observatory, while also preparing us for a satellite mission to monitor coral health. CoralSpec will generate a database for science community use.  Partners: Backscatter 

Caribbean Sea

Our team has three current missions in the Caribbean. Partnered with The Nature Conservancy, we are using satellite data from Planet Inc to map the extent of coral reefs throughout the Caribbean region, particularly in the wake of hurricane activity. This mapping will go into TNC's coral reef conservation and restoration planning effort with its regional partners. A second TNC mission is using the Carnegie Airborne Observatory and TNC's field program to make detailed maps of live coral cover in two areas of particular biodiversity interest -- St. Croix and the Dominican Republic. In the Dominican Republic, the maps will shape a new marine sanctuary established by the government and managed by a conglomerate of conservation organizations. We are also working closely with Wake Forest University and Belize Audubon to study the spatial ecology of Lighthouse Reef Atoll in Belize using CAO, satellite, and field techniques.  Partners: The Nature Conservancy,  Planet Labs,  Fundamar,  Puntacana Foundation, Wake Forest University, Belize Audubon Society

Hawaiian Islands

Our Hawaii missions range from the spatial ecology and conservation of coral reefs to studies of coral bleaching resistance. Current large-area mapping of reefs focuses on the Big Island of Hawaii, which contains the largest reef ecosystem in the Hawaiian Archipelago. This effort is providing a look at how the reef and its corals have responded to the massive 2015 bleaching event. We are looking at a range of processes from coral chemistry to coral-fish-invertebrate interactions. In Kaneohe Bay on the Island of Oahu, we and the Gates Coral Lab are using the Carnegie Airborne Observatory to not only map the location of individual corals but also to detect whether a species is likely to bleach in future. The goal is to learn how to detect and map corals that are resistant or resilient to bleaching during times of heat stress.  Partners: Gates Coral LabHawaii Institute of Marine Biology,  NOAA PIFSC,  Hawaii Division of Aquatic Resources 


As we visit reefs around the world, we're busy reporting on their condition and collecting compelling conservation narratives in each region. The goal is to motivate additional conservation action via the current work ongoing worldwide to save coral reefs. Check out our Reefscape series on Mongabay.com!  Partners: The Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation , Mongabay.com

Meet the team

Greg Asner

Chris Balzotti

Heather D'Angelo

Nick Fabina

Shawna Foo

Joseph Heckler

David Knapp

Clare LeDuff

Ji-wei Li

Robin Martin

Cat Spina

Nick Vaughn