The National Aeronautics Space Administration (NASA) launched the Coral Reef Airborne Laboratory (CORAL) mission on Thursday. CORAL is a three-year campaign to gather new data and knowledge about the coral reefs in Kaneohe Bay, Oahu, Hawaii.

Dr. Eric Hochberg, an associate scientist from the Bermuda Institute of Ocean Sciences (BIOS) and CORAL’s principal investigator, is overseeing tests of a new instrument called the Portable Remote Imaging Spectrometer (PRISM). This new airborne device is able to measure water’s optical properties precisely even from about 23,000 feet above.

Hochberg, along with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) scientists, are studying how environmental changes are impacting these important parts of the ecosystem.

“CORAL will give us the first large, uniform dataset on the condition of coral reefs across key regions of the Pacific,” NASA cited Hochberg as saying in a statement.

“We have good reason to be concerned about the future of reefs, but there are a lot of fundamental things we just don’t understand about them. With the CORAL dataset, we can begin to better understand how reefs interact with their environments,” he added.

CORAL project scientist Michelle Gierach of NASA’s JPL, said that PRISM is the CORAL mission’s heart and soul. It is meant to address the challenges of coastal observations.

PRISM was designed to handle tough light conditions that other remote sensors cannot as it tries to focus on dimly visible objects underwater. It is able to survey an entire reef ecosystem through a reflected light on the ocean that can extract important indicators of the condition of a reef including corals, algae and sand.

Apart from the beauty that attracts many tourists, coral reefs provide habitat for the majority of fish. It also provides protection for shorelines from rising ocean levels and storm surges.

According to the International Society for Reef Studies Consensus Statement which was published in 2015, reefs are among the ecosystems greatly affected by global warming with up to 50 percent of it being largely or completely degraded over the past few decades.

Within the next three years, the CORAL team will study the reefs of Hawaii, Palau, Australia’s Great Barrier Reef and the Mariana Islands.

Meanwhile, the Philippines will lose at least 59 reef fish species in the next 15 to 25 years due to illegal fishing and overharvesting, according to a study conducted by Haribon Foundation, an environmental group.

“The belief we once had that the sea is of unlimited resource is not true … The alarming loss of fishes is telling us that there’s not much time left for action, The Philippine Daily Inquirer reported Haribon project manager Dr. Margarita N. Lavides as saying in a statement on Thursday.

Some of the endangered reef fish species are:

  • African Pompano (Talakitok)
  • Bumphead Parrotfish (Taungan)
  • Giant Grouper (Kugtong)
  • Humphead Wrasse (Mameng)
  • Mangrove Red Snapper (Maya-Maya)

Watch: Earth Expedition: Aloha from CORAL

Source: YouTube/NASA Climate Change