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Catlin Seaview Survey launched in Caribbean to monitor climate change impact


July 31, 2013   by Canadian Underwriter


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The Catlin Seaview Survey is beginning a new campaign in the Caribbean and Bermuda, in an effort to understand environmental stresses among coral reefs and vulnerability to climate change in the area.

Catlin Seaview Survey begins in Caribbean

The expedition, sponsored by insurer and reinsurer Catlin Group, began with studying the area around Australia’s Great Barrier Reef last year, where it recorded more than 100,000 360-degree panoramic images, at 32 separate locations, along the entire length of the 2,300-km reef, using specially built cameras.

The images are intended to create a scientific baseline study that can be used  to monitor changes.

The goal for the survey is to allow ocean, coral and climate scientists to understand changes occurring in the water. Corals are considered a “canary in the coal mine” in terms of the impact of climate change, according to Catlin.

“When reefs are harmed or destroyed due to climate change and regional drivers, the effects can be devastating and far-reaching,” the insurer notes. “There is a shift in the insurance industry; evaluating and helping clients minimise risk is critical to business, the assessment of the impact of climate change is a natural extension for the future of the insurance industry.”

The new survey will begin in Belize and will move on to Mexico, Anguilla, St. Vincent, Guadeloupe, Turks and Caicos and the Bahamas in the coming months. It will also explore the coral reefs off Bermuda in September.

“The Caribbean was chosen to launch the global mission because it is at the frontline of risk,” said Richard Vevers, project director for the Catlin Seaview Survey. “Over the last 50 years, 80 per cent of the corals in many places in the Caribbean have disappeared because of coastal development and pollution. They now are also threatened by invasive species, climate change and ocean acidification – it’s the perfect storm.”

Christophe Bailhache driving the SVII Camera in Curacao

Catlin said it expects the state of the Caribbean reefs will provide insights into the future prospects for coral reefs in other regions of the world. Specifically, the new survey will focus on four major scientific goals, according to Catlin:

  • Change detection – creating a Caribbean-wide ecological baseline: Accurate measurements of the current state of the coral reefs in the Caribbean are crucial to support timely decisions about their management.

  • Understand coral reef stress – when, where and how much?: The Catlin Seaview Survey team will use direct measurements as well as data from NOAA and NASA satellite systems to understand how patterns in the health of coral reefs (e.g. coral cover, reef complexity) are influenced by local and global stressors such as changes in sea temperature, coastal pollution, fishing intensity, and exposure to wave stress and storms. This will fill in critical gaps in our understanding of why coral reefs have been in decline over the past 50 years.

  • Understanding climate change vulnerability. The Catlin Seaview Survey’s work during 2012 on Australia’s Great Barrier Reef has revealed that mesophotic (deep water) coral reefs may play an essential role in regenerating shallow water reef systems. The Survey will gather a more comprehensive understanding of the threat of climate change to coral reefs in the Caribbean by using similar techniques and technologies to map mesophotic coral reefs in the region and to investigate the genetic connectedness of those reefs to shallow water reef systems.

  • Produce new tools for understanding changes in tropical reef systems: Rapid, semi-automated and rigorous surveys of coral reefs are essential for developing an understanding of the rates of change, vulnerability and priorities for management intervention.

“We are committed to understanding the future risks posed by climate change,” said Stephen Catlin, the company’s CEO. “It is not only important that scientists have access to this valuable data, but insurance companies such as ours must understand the impact that significant changes to our environment will have on local economies.”

The Catlin Seaview Survey has partnered with the Global Change Institute at The University of Queensland in Australia and the Scripps Institution of Oceanography. Scripps is working with the global change Institute to develop autonomous assessments of the hundreds of thousands panoramic images taken of the reefs within the Caribbean.

Image: Christophe Bailhache driving the SVII Camera in Curacao (Credit: Catlin Seaview Survey)