Envisioning Maui’s Reefs: Photomosaics as a conservation and analysis tool

The Smith and Sandin Labs in the Center for Marine Biodiversity and Conservation have been using new diver-operated technology to capture hundreds of reef images that will become a 200m² photomosaic.

Coral reefs are global hotspots of species diversity and productivity that we value in the billions of dollars annually for fisheries, tourism, recreation, business, and coastal protection yet they are increasingly declining due to local and global anthropogenic stressors. Intense fishing pressure and runoff pollution have hurt Hawaii’s reefs especially over the last 20 years. The Smith Lab has been studying reefs on Maui and working with local managers on conservation solutions since 2000.

We now seek to add to our knowledge of Maui’s reefs using a new tool that allows us to examine large and small scale changes on reefs through time. This project is of particular urgency due to pending development on Maui that could result in detrimental effects on adjacent reefs. Thus, it is more important than ever to document reef health on Maui and further unravel reef processes before major changes may occur.

For couple weeks in July, Emily Kelly, Susan Kram and Jen Smith went to Maui and captured several photographic mosaic images of 10 reefs on Maui.  These images provide a 200m² view of reefs we are incapable of seeing through other means of monitoring or in situ observations.

Our goal is to map reefscapes to provide a novel and multiscale perspective for studying reef composition and function through time and to use this novel perspective for conservation.

Through these images and analyses, we will capture the breadth of reefscapes on island, unravel the patterns of species interactions in the midst of physical and biological forces on Maui, and examine changes in reefs through time. These images will also serve as a conservation tool in promoting reef stewardship on Maui.

This work would not have been possible without the collaborations and generous contributions of the State of Hawai’i Division of Aquatic Resources (DAR), Gareth Williams, Clint Edwards and the Sandin Lab.

A Compiled Photomosaic - the Final Product

A compiled photomosaic – the final product