Global Scale Mapping

Satellite the village of Nukuni on Ono-i-Lau, Fiji. Ono-i-Lau is a group of islands within a barrier reef system in the Fijian archipelago of Lau Islands. Photo © Planet Labs Inc.

Allen Coral Atlas

Until now, the reference maps for the distribution of coral reefs have been a compilation from the UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre (UNEP-WCMC) and WorldFish, in collaboration with the World Resources Institute (WRI) and The Nature Conservancy (TNC). Data sources include the Millennium Coral Reef Mapping Project (IMaRS-USF and IRD 2005, IMaRS-USF 2005), the World Atlas of Coral Reefs (Spalding et al. 2001) and many local agencies (e.g., GBRMPA). The highest resolution for any of these maps is 30 m based on Landsat satellite imagery. The opens in a new windowAllen Coral Atlas (Atlas) has generated benthic maps and geomorphic maps at a 5 m resolution for tropical shallow reefs worldwide and will provide the first validated benthic maps of coral reefs at a global scale.

wallis and futuna Matā’utu, capital of Wallis and Futuna. Photo © Planet Labs Inc.

What is the Allen Coral Atlas?

The Allen Coral Atlas is a game-changing coral conservation tool developed in partnership with coral reef scientists, universities, NGOs, and private entities. It was named for Microsoft co-founder and philanthropist Paul G. Allen in recognition of his key role in bringing the Atlas to life and his overall commitment to filling data gaps necessary to solve the world’s greatest challenges. From satellite imagery, in partnership with Arizona State University and the University of Queensland (UQ), the Atlas team is generating high resolution spatial and thematic maps of coral reefs worldwide. The innovative approach to mapping coral reefs, developed by UQ’s Remote Sensing Research Center, allows any shallow (down to 15 m) tropical coral reefs to be mapped and classified. These will be the first high resolution (5 m) maps of coral reefs created using a consistent methodology across the globe, providing both a geomorphic and benthic classification. These 5 m resolution maps will be comparable at local, national, regional, and global scales.

allen coral atlas approach


The unique approach of the Allen Coral Atlas to mapping coral reefs is a combination of satellite imagery, depth data, and field verification. It creates high resolution, high quality maps of coral reefs worldwide which are valuable for many applications such as coral reef conservation, coral reef restoration, and the protection of fisheries. Image © Vulcan Inc.

You can find more information on the Atlas, including a description of the methods to create the maps opens in a new windowhere.

Using the Allen Coral Atlas

The Allen Coral Atlas website features the opens in a new windowAtlas interactive mapping tool, giving access to the satellite imagery, the geomorphic and the benthic maps of coral reefs worldwide. The Atlas interactive mapping tool provides features that allow simple analysis as shown in the video below.

The document opens in a new windowReef Cover Classificationopens PDF file describes the classification used for the geomorphic zonation and the benthic classification. The geomorphic zonation is summarized in this opens in a new windowinfographicopens PDF file . The Atlas describes the application of remote sensing to map coral reefs at scales that address national and regional issues. The data addresses large-scale management questions, for example “What area of coral reef is protected by marine protected areas (MPAs)?”. The geomorphic and benthic maps of the Atlas can be used in many management applications. For example:

  • Marine spatial planning at a national and regional scale
  • Monitoring and evaluation at a national and regional scale. Read the case study below
  • Mapping coral reef resilience indicators
  • Science/models: reef connectivity and seascape connectivity
  • Coastal hazards and risk analysis

The maps of global benthic and geomorphic classifications of coral reefs generated by the Atlas team are a welcome addition to the libraries of existing coral reef maps. The coral reef maps generated by the Atlas team will be the first worldwide maps of coral reefs created using the same methodology, and providing both a geomorphic and benthic classification. These 5 m resolution maps will be comparable at local, national, regional, and global scales.

Case Study: Monitoring and Evaluation of Reefs Under Protection and MPA Networks in Fiji

mpa committee fiji

Marine Protected Areas Technical Committee (MPATC) an advisory body to the Fiji Government. Photo © Epeli Naukautoga, IUCN Oceania

Fiji has committed to a national network of 30% marine managed/protected areas by 2020 at the Small Island Developing States meetings in Mauritius (2005, by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs) and recommitted to this at the SIDS meeting in Samoa in 2014 (Ministry of Strategic Planning, National Development and Statistics). This commitment was reaffirmed in Fiji’s Green Growth Framework (2014), at the United Nations Oceans Conference (June 2017) and National Development Plan (2017).

Monitoring progress against the 30% goals requires a monitoring and evaluation system which includes maps of coral reefs that are comparable at the national level.

What: Update of reefs under legal protection

Who: Fiji’s Department of Environment and Ministry of Fisheries, Fiji Locally Managed Marine Areas Network (FLMMA), International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), Conservation International, World Wildlife Fund, and Wildlife Conservation Society

Coral Reef Map: Atlas benthic and geomorphic maps

Method: GIS analysis. Calculation of the reef area in Fiji’s protected areas and the percentage of reefs protected by FLMMAs at a local, region, and country-wide scale.

Results: A gap analysis of areas needing additional protection and identification of Special, Unique Marine Areas (SUMA). This report will help the government of Fiji to reach their goal of 30% of waters managed as a marine protected area network by 2020.

How does the Atlas improve this process?

  • There were no maps of seagrass of the region. The benthic map of the Atlas fills the gap and provides a consistent seagrass cover countrywide
  • The consistency of the maps helps compare the different regions of Fiji
  • The benthic map of the Atlas has a higher resolution (5 m) and will provide a more accurate estimation of habitats
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