Catlin Seaview Survey’s latest expedition to investigate Caribbean’s endangered coral reef ecosystems

31 July 2013

Series of Expeditions Significantly Expands Breadth of Scientific and Visual Research Highlighting Effects of Climate Change on Planet’s Reefs.

Caribbean Caribbean Caribbean

Click image for high resolution download – and here for more images. A video ‘fly through’ of a survey transect is also free to use. Credit Info: Catlin Seaview Survey

HAMILTON, Bermuda – The Catlin Seaview Survey, sponsored by international specialty property/casualty insurer and reinsurer Catlin Group Limited (‘CGL’; London Stock Exchange), today announced a significant expansion of its study of coral reefs with a new campaign in the Caribbean and Bermuda.

The programme – which will significantly widen opportunities for ocean, coral and climate scientists to understand the changes occurring within the region – starts in Belize and moves on to Mexico, Anguilla, St. Vincent, Guadeloupe, Turks and Caicos and the Bahamas in the coming months. The Catlin Seaview Survey will also explore the coral reefs off Bermuda in September.

Coral reefs in the Caribbean and Atlantic, like elsewhere, are under growing environmental stress. Being highly sensitive to environmental change, corals are considered the ‘canary in the coal mine’ when it comes to impacts of climate change and ocean acidification. Exploitation, pollution, warming waters and increased storms linked with climate change has caused the massive loss of corals across the Caribbean over the past 50 years.

The loss of coral reefs has long-term implications for Caribbean economies given their dependence on reefs and other marine ecosystems for goods, services and economic welfare. According to the World Resources Institute, the value of shoreline protection provided by Caribbean reefs is between $700 million and $2.2 billion per year. Within the next 50 years, coral degradation and death could lead to annual losses totaling $140 million to $420 million.

“We are committed to understanding the future risks posed by climate change,” said Stephen Catlin, Chief Executive of Catlin Group Limited. “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.”

A Scientific Race against Time

Coral reefs globally are in an unprecedented state of decline due to pollution, overfishing and climate change. The US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) predict increasing frequency and severity of mass bleaching events over the coming years. As the Catlin Seaview Survey embarks on a race against time to survey the coral reefs of the world, the Caribbean serves as an ideal launching point to take the campaign global because of the stress already experienced by its reefs.

“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”.

It is expected 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:

  • 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.

Scientific Partners

The Catlin Seaview Survey has teamed 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.

“These partnerships are essential to the success of the research program,” said Professor Ove Hoegh-Guldberg, Chief Scientist of the Catlin Seaview Survey. “By collecting and analysing images in a semi-autonomous fashion, the research project can cover huge distances. This has never been done before.”

Climate Change and Implications for the Insurance Industry

Five hundred million people worldwide rely on coral reefs for food, tourism, economic stability and shoreline protection. When reefs are harmed or destroyed due to climate change and regional drivers, the effects can be devastating and far-reaching. 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 Geneva Association, the international association for the study of insurance economics, recently released a report, "Warming of the Oceans and Implications for the (Re) Insurance Industry", highlighting the impact of climate change on the warming of oceans and the correlating effect on the insurance industry’s risk assessment strategies. The report highlights three main drivers of change:

  • Greater Volumes of Water = Greater Risk: Not only do rising sea levels increase the risk of flooding or the potential impact of storm surges, but they also decrease the protective lifespan of coastal infrastructure. While the probability of a storm is not increased, the damage caused by one is.
  • Warmer Ocean = More Water in the Atmosphere: A warmer atmosphere contains more water and therefore more energy. This has the potential to increase the intensity of extreme events and associated precipitation. This greater intensity increases the loss potential of natural catastrophes.
  • Effect on Large-Scale Climate Patterns: The warming of the oceans is also likely to affect large-scale climate patterns such as El Niño, various monsoon systems and/or the North Atlantic Oscillation.

About the Catlin Seaview Survey

The Catlin Seaview Survey is a pioneering scientific expedition revealing the impact of environmental changes on the world’s coral reefs. The Survey aims to significantly expand the data available to scientists about global coral reef systems.

The Catlin Seaview Survey made world news in 2012 with its ground-breaking scientific study of the Great Barrier Reef. The team took 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 being used to create a vital scientific baseline study of the reef that can be used to monitor change, as well as being used to reveal it to the world through Street View in Google Maps -in partnership with Google.

More information about the Catlin Seaview Survey

Existing 360 images of the Catlin Seaview Survey expedition

Engage with the Catlin Seaview Survey and its 2 million followers on Google+

About Catlin

Catlin Group Limited is a global specialty property/casualty insurer and reinsurer operating worldwide through six underwriting hubs: London/UK, Bermuda, the United States, Asia Pacific, Europe, and Canada. The Catlin Seaview Survey is the second major scientific project Catlin has sponsored. The Catlin Arctic Survey (2009-2011) investigated the impact of environmental changes in the Arctic. Catlin believes that insurers must take a leading role in improving the understanding of potential changes to our environment, changes that could affect how risks are managed in the future. Catlin’s contribution is to sponsor independent, impartial research that is freely distributed to the world’s scientific community.

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