Fish swim on a reef at Rongelap Atoll in the Marshall Islands. (Allen Coral Atlas, Greg Asner via AP)

Fish swim on a reef at Rongelap Atoll in the Marshall Islands. (Allen Coral Atlas, Greg Asner via AP)

Greg Asner reviews ocean temperature data at his lab. He was one of the people in charge of making the atlas. (AP/Caleb Jones)

Greg Asner reviews ocean temperature data at his lab. He was one of the people in charge of making the atlas. (AP/Caleb Jones)

Greg Asner, left, prepares to dive on a coral reef off the Big Island near Captain Cook, Hawaii. (AP/Caleb Jones)

Greg Asner, left, prepares to dive on a coral reef off the Big Island near Captain Cook, Hawaii. (AP/Caleb Jones)

These are some of the people from the University of Queensland who helped create the atlas. (Allen Coral Atlas)

These are some of the people from the University of Queensland who helped create the atlas. (Allen Coral Atlas)

The company Planet Labs designs its own satellites. (Planet)

The company Planet Labs designs its own satellites. (Planet)

Making and Using the Maps

Posted: November 1, 2021

What does a coral reef look like? Does it waft in the waves? How colorful is it? Do fish get lost hiding in a reef? Are there reefs in every ocean? Those are just a few of the questions you might have about reefs. The creators of the Allen Coral Atlas also asked questions. The collection of reef maps is for anyone who is curious about sea coral. After all, a team of curious people made it!

Scientists, technologists, and conservationists worked together on the project. Mapping all the coral reefs in the world was a lot of work. Everyone had to stay organized. People worked on one of five different teams. The Vulcan Inc. team managed the project. The Planet Labs team provided high-resolution satellite photos for each map in the atlas. The University of Queensland in Australia helped produce the maps. Arizona State University developed technology to read the satellite images. The National Geographic Society provided field scientists and divers for the project. Their team spent time under water, exploring the reefs in person.

For four years, all of the teams looked at satellite images. They shared ideas. They talked about new discoveries. Computers helped use the millions of satellite images to create detailed maps. Map by map, the teams pulled together the completed Allen Coral Atlas.

Some maps in the collection show healthy, colorful reefs. Others show bleached reefs. (Bleaching happens when pollution or too-warm ocean water damages corals. When corals are hurt, they lose their bright colors.) One section shows marine habitats in coral reefs. Another shows protected reefs.

The creators of the Allen Coral Atlas hope it will be used to help restore and protect coral reefs around the world. Coral reefs aren’t just beautiful ocean structures. God made them useful. Reefs keep sea water clean. Each reef houses thousands or millions of sea critters like fish, shrimp, worms, crustaceans, sponges, mollusks, eels, and more. Reefs form barriers that protect shorelines from storms. They slow down powerful waves. The new atlas will help many people enjoy and protect these vibrant underwater habitats.