ASU's Allen Coral Atlas drives ocean sustainability

Officials from 14 countries are working on 48 new marine planning projects using the atlas maps as their foundational dataset

December 2, 2021

The ocean covers 71% of our planet's surface. And one particular underwater ecosystem provides a lifeline for life below water and life on land — coral reefs. 

At the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26), the UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for the Ocean Peter Thomson stressed the urgency of climate action, saying, "There's no more debate about are we heading towards 2.7 or 3 (degrees) or way over. ... What it's about now is, what are we doing about it? What are the solutions?” Serene nature photo depicting a rocky but green shoreline and blue sea. Download Full Image

Discussions at COP26 highlighted the importance of coral reef management and demonstrated a clear need for more commitment from policy and decision-makers. Arizona State University sustainability experts agree.

“Scaling up reef management is critical for the communities that rely on healthy ocean ecosystems,” said Greg Asner, managing director of the Allen Coral Atlas and director of ASU’s Center for Global Discovery and Conservation Science. “Coral reefs provide coastal communities with food, income from tourism and fishing, protection from waves, and are integral to many coastal traditions and cultures.”

More than 500 million people depend on coral reefs worldwide as a source of food, wave barriers, a core part of coastal traditions and an economic resource. About 25% of marine species are supported by coral reefs. However, climate change and human activity threaten the world’s reefs. Marine heat waves can lead to coral-bleaching events, leaving the coral stressed and more prone to mortality, just one of many symptoms caused by climate change.

To strengthen protection and adapt to a rapidly changing environment, the world is in need of actionable data. The Center for Global Discovery and Conservation Science is meeting this need with the Allen Coral Atlas, a program mapping and monitoring the world’s coral reefs in partnership with Planet, University of Queensland, Coral Reef Alliance, National Geographic Society and Vulcan. Key features on the atlas include worldwide coral-bleaching monitoring, global habitat maps and a marine-protected-area data layer, among other products. The atlas was created to support coral reef conservation efforts and improve the capacity of teams around the world to meet their reef management goals. 

COP26 also demonstrated that policymakers must place a bigger emphasis on using nature-based solutions to protect and provide for their populations. Governments are already using the atlas to conduct countrywide analyses, identify region-by-region statistics, guide marine spatial planning efforts, enact countrywide marine action plans, track progress toward sustainability goals and more.

Officials from 14 countries are collaborating with Allen Coral Atlas team members, working on 48 new marine planning projects using the atlas maps as their foundational dataset. And this number is growing.

“The need for data is a concern for all of us," said Andi Rusandi, director of conservation and marine biodiversity for the Ministry of Marine Affairs and Fisheries in Indonesia. "It doesn’t only matter for the Ministry of Marine Affairs and Fisheries. We are all integrated in this effort.”

COP26 illustrated that countries have an opportunity to collaborate and implement necessary steps in fighting climate change. As a global partnership, the Allen Coral Atlas provides motivated governments with a resource to conserve our world’s coral reefs and support the communities that rely on them.

Makenna Flynn

Communications Specialist, Center for Global Discovery and Conservation Science

First-generation Uber grad writes her own path

December 2, 2021

Editor's note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable fall 2021 graduates.

First-generation college student Caroline De Arras lived and breathed reading and writing growing up. She recalls lugging stacks of library books home each week and losing herself in every book. She relished putting pen to paper, and it wasn’t long before she started writing her own stories. Caroline De Arras Caroline De Arras Download Full Image

She attended community college after graduating from high school and thought that was the end, she wouldn’t be pursuing any other college degrees, but her passion for writing never subsided.

“I had worked for a few months as a temporary editor, looking to get a position in a more permanent capacity,” she said. “I knew what I wanted, and an editing job fulfilled me in ways that nothing ever had.”

To fulfill her passion, she needed to return to college and through the Uber and ASU partnership, she was on the path to reach her goals. Through the partnership, Uber offers qualifying drivers, delivery people, or an eligible family member full tuition coverage for online courses at ASU. As a qualifying family member of a driver on the Uber platform, De Arras was able to pursue a Bachelor of Arts degree in English through ASU Online.

“The Uber partnership program didn’t help me achieve pre-existing goals as much as it placed abandoned goals within reach,” De Arras said. “ASU offered me the opportunity to step beyond my comfort zone and challenge myself in ways I never would have before. I realized I can accomplish more than I imagined.”

This fall, De Arras will be an ASU graduate, and she spoke to us about her time at ASU Online and what’s next. 

Question: What was your “aha” moment when you realized you wanted to study the field you majored in?

Answer: English has always been my passion. As young as 11, tapping out made-up stories on an ancient desktop, I fantasized about being an author. That interest swelled gradually throughout my life until Dad called me and said tuition money was available if I wanted it. If I wanted it? I’ve never wanted anything more in my life.

My "aha" moment was the moment I realized that earning my English degree was possible. I have social anxiety, hate phone calls and fear new experiences, but that day, nothing could stop me. Transcript requests, phone calls with school admins, paperwork — I did it all without slowing down to think until I was purchasing books for my first class.  

Q: What’s something you learned while at ASU — in the classroom or otherwise — that surprised you or changed your perspective?

A: The most profound thing I learned during my time at ASU is how different — and equally valid — lived experience can be depending on age, gender and ethnicity. Honestly, my upbringing was incredibly narrow-minded — a holy huddle that aggressively shut out divergent opinions. Racism didn’t exist, and of course, our Founding Fathers were practically faultless. Just because I don’t experience something doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist; that might sound painfully basic — the intellectual equivalent to realizing that covering your eyes doesn’t make you invisible. But it was profound for me simply because I had never encountered so many different, reasonable ways of looking at the world. 

Q: Which professor taught you the most important lesson while at ASU?

A: It’s impossible to name just one. Jonathan Danielson — my absolute favorite professor — helped develop my confidence in my ability to tell a good story. Nicholas Bestor showed me a new way of looking at video games under a narrative lens and made me realize that story is everywhere. Peter Goggin guided me into a cautious appreciation for science fiction. The combined efforts of Desiree Groft and Jason Bryant opened my eyes to the incredible variety in lived experience; they taught me to look at other people differently and listen with thoughtful attention to their personal stories.

I will be forever grateful to these professors for not only developing my writing skills but also encouraging free thought and open communication on difficult topics.

Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to those still in school?

A: Push yourself. Try classes that are outside of your comfort zone and focus on elements of your academic performance that are weaker. It’s natural to stick with the familiar and play to your strengths, especially when you're concerned about grades, but this is the time to form new thoughts, explore new genres and examine positions you might not agree with. Do the hard things. 

Q: What was your favorite spot for power studying?

A: I did my best studying hunkered over a desk in the corner of our family room. My husband's grandfather built part of it, and its status as an expensive family heirloom made me hesitant to use it at first. But the cubbies, drawers and cabinets full of old journals inspired me in a way that nothing else did.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: After graduation, I intend to find a remote job as an editor or content writer and start saving money so my husband and I can do a little traveling in the next few years before we have kids. I’m still searching for the story I have to tell and the good that I can do with my words, so I want to have as many experiences and build as many relationships as I can. After all, how can we know what we have to say with any confidence until we’ve given our eyes something unexpected to look at? Our brains automatically edit our noses from our field of vision because it’s always in sight and we don’t need to see it to process reality. What other blind spots do I have as a result of that automatic editing? Time to shake things up a little.  

Q: If someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, what would you tackle?

A: That’s a tricky question because I don’t think our worst problems have financial solutions. However, the problem closest to my heart is the prevalence of homelessness. 

I live near Richmond and see so much of it in the city — I know it’s far worse in other cities — people sleeping under bridges on dirty mattresses in the middle of winter. There are so many videos on the internet of people building warm shelters for stray cats; why aren’t we doing more of that for the people around us who are struggling?

Forty million might not go far in solving this issue, but I hate the thought of anyone not having the basic safety of a roof to sleep under. If possible, I would build and maintain some form of affordable housing for the homeless. I’ve seen ideas for villages of tiny homes where people with nowhere else to go can have access to a warm, dry space. Something like that equipped with basic needs like food, clean water, showers and toiletries would be a worthwhile investment.

Meenah Rincon

Public Relations Manager, ASU Online