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ASU's Allen Coral Atlas launches improved tool to uncover reef threats, support conservation measures

October 11, 2022

Reef Threats system monitors both human drivers of coral loss and reef response

The loss of coral reefs is a serious threat to the health of marine ecosystems around the world. 

Rising ocean temperatures and coastal pollution are among many environmental stressors that contribute to the degradation of critical coral reef environments. Additional threats including deforestation, agricultural pollutants and land development are damaging coastal marine zones at an alarming rate.

Today, the Allen Coral Atlas at Arizona State University is launching a novel turbidity monitoring tool, which is part of a new toolkit called “Reef Threats.” The Reef Threats system provides global, real-time, integrated data on bleaching, ocean temperature and turbidity. Turbidity is the "muck," mostly from neighboring land use, that can harm coastal coral habitats. 

The expanded capability of the atlas’s monitoring system will provide crucial information for conservation managers around the world tasked with deciding where and how to best protect, support and save coral reefs.

“Each Allen Coral Atlas monitoring tool we create offers new insight into how conditions are changing on coral reefs,” says Greg Asner, director of ASU’s Center for Global Discovery and Conservation Science with the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Futures Laboratory.

“The new Reef Threats toolkit will link changes in ocean temperature, turbidity and coral bleaching to coral loss and reef change over time. This is important because now we’ll see both the human drivers and the reef response with increasing breadth and detail. We’re hopeful that innovative mitigation measures will emerge for coral reefs worldwide,” Asner says.

Video (no audio) shows dynamic water quality data on the Jamaican coastline. Credit: Allen Coral Atlas 

Brianna Bambic leads the Allen Coral Atlas engagement team by facilitating workshops and field opportunities to use data from the atlas in real time. Working directly with researchers, students, governments and coastal managers in reef communities around the world, Bambic says the new tool will make a global impact in reef management.

“In a time of increasing human disturbance both on land and in our oceans, dynamic turbidity monitoring at this scale will drastically improve time and efficiency, as well as prioritize areas for conservation,” says Bambic, senior manager of global engagement with the ASU Center for Global Discovery and Conservation. “These new data can help local communities make more informed decisions about where to restore reefs and mangroves, and it will help identify sources of pollution caused by coastal land development and urban runoff.”

Having a visual, real-time tool provides an immediate focus on conservation action, and can help reduce the time it takes to complete a report. For example, the Ministry of Environment of Sri Lanka is creating an Environmentally Sensitive Areas map of Sri Lanka. The atlas data will dramatically cut down the time and resources it takes to compile their reports, thus more time can be used for mitigation and conservation action.

Bambic says with real-time feedback to see where the coast is being disturbed, coastal communities can monitor if and when their restoration efforts are making a difference. 

What is ocean turbidity?

Turbid water is cloudy and heavy with sediment, contaminants and pollutants stemming from land damage and disturbances. Coastal ocean turbidity is an accepted index of water quality that has been widely applied in field-based water quality monitoring programs. For example, the United States Geological Survey and National Water Quality Program use this index.

However, field-based point recordings have extremely limited spatial coverage. As a result, it is challenging to scale field data to large regions to capture the extent, temporal variation and sources of turbid waters. 

Saving coral reefs requires the identification and reduction of local stressors and the cumulative impacts caused by human activities, particularly overfishing, coastal water pollution and land development.

“The muck smothers corals that generate habitat for other marine species and for humans. The improved turbidity monitor uses satellite imagery taken on a regular basis worldwide,” Asner says. “The tool uses European Sentinel-2 data, and while it does come with some satellite-based artifacts, it’s important to push our monitoring boundaries to provide timely, detailed information about the health of coral reefs.”

The Allen Coral Atlas uses satellite imagery, advanced analytics and global collaboration to create maps of and monitor threats to marine ecosystems’ benthic and geomorphic data in unprecedented detail. The atlas is a collaborative project led by the ASU Center for Global Discovery and Conservation Science in partnership with Vulcan Inc., Planet Inc., the University of Queensland and the Coral Reef Alliance.

Top photo: Rising ocean temperatures and coastal pollution are among many environmental stressors that contribute to the degradation of critical coral reef environments. Photo courtey Greg Asner

Sandra Leander

Assistant Director of Media Relations , ASU Knowledge Enterprise


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ASU program aims to add more diversity to library field

October 11, 2022

Less than 3% of librarians and archivists in the United States are Black. Less than 2% are Indigenous peoples.

It’s not hard, says Jessica Salow, to figure out why.

“The reason why we don’t have a high representation of BIPOCBlack, Indigenous, people of color people within this profession is because many folks who are in that age range of wanting to figure out what they want to do for their career don’t understand that they can become a librarian or archivist because our profession does not reach into high schools, community colleges or anything along those lines to actually tell folks that this profession is something that they can pursue if they want to,” said Salow, an assistant archivist of Black Collections at Arizona State University.

“It’s not like we are going out talking about the benefits of working within this profession. It's always having folks come to us.”

At ASU, that’s about to change.

Salow, Nancy Godoy, director of the Community-Driven Archives Initiative and associate archivist of the Chicano/a Research Collection, and Alexander Soto, director of the Labriola National American Indian Data Center, are heading up a three-year project designed to attract more diverse groups of people to careers as librarians and archivists.

The project, titled "Centering BIPOC Memory Keepers and Advancing Equity and Inclusion," is being funded by a $534,975 grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services.

Twenty fellowships, each worth $10,000, will be handed out to community college and tribal college students, a financial boost that Godoy hopes will incentivize students to attend four-year universities.

“This could be the ultimate pathway ticket,” Soto said.

Man's portrait

Alexander Soto

Over the next year, Godoy, Salow and Soto will develop a team and curriculum, and the first cohort of fellows will be recruited, primarily from Tohono O’odham Community College and Maricopa County community colleges.

“We want community college students and tribal college students to be exposed to what we do with community-driven archives,” Soto said. “Then, hopefully, they want to explore this (career) beyond tribal college or community college, and maybe come to ASU to work with us and maybe go to library school afterwards.”

How systemic is the lack of diversification? A report from Arizona Archives Matrix estimated African American, Asian American, Latino and LGBTQ communities compose more than 42% of Arizona’s population but are represented in less than 2% of archival collections. Nearly 85% of librarians and archivists in the United States are white.

“We’re constantly working and innovating and creating in spaces that are not meant for us,” Godoy said. “So, I think a big part of this grant is creating safe spaces for the next generation of students who will continue this work.”

ASU has been at the forefront of diversifying those career fields. Soto said the entire four-person staff at the Labriola Center is made up of Indigenous peoples.

It’s a much different story off campus, though.

“For the longest time, there’s been a lot of talking points within libraries and archives that we need to diversify,” Salow said. “We need to have more people of color within our ranks. But the problem is that we’re not reaching people who don’t even know that librarianship or archives is an actual profession for them to take on.”

Portrait of ASU Library Archivist of Black Collections .

Jessica Salow

Another problem, Salow said, is that libraries historically have asked people to volunteer for free or work unpaid internships. That’s not feasible for many people in the BIPOC community.

“It’s apparent that within our economic status, we cannot take on free work,” Salow said. “We have to get paid for the work we do. … This profession is always asking for free labor, give us free labor, give us free things, give us this, give us that, but it doesn’t take the time to actually reach into communities that they know have been actively erased from this profession.”

One goal of the project is to change how people view librarians. As Salow put it, to move beyond the “shush.”

“You’re a librarian, but you’re also a community member,” Soto said. “You’re an activist, you’re a storyteller, you’re all these things already, depending on who you are. I do rap music. So I bring that energy with my background, music and activism but, oh yeah, I’m a librarian too.”

“You can bring your whole self into your position,” Salow said.

Soto, Salow and Godoy all said the project’s success won’t be measured by the number of students who decide to become librarians/archivists. Instead, it will be in the message they deliver and the minds they open.

“For me, it really is important just to get in front of folks and talk about my experience,” Salow said. “Knowing that I did enough to outreach and do the things that were necessary in order to bring folks into this profession, whether or not they’re convinced by the talking points that I have. That’s not up to me. My hope is that we are building people’s knowledge base about how they can continue to cultivate their memories, even if it’s not in an institution.”

“We hope that this is at least a talking point to start a conversation about how we can recruit people in different ways in order for this profession to live up to the standards that we keep talking about,” Godoy added. “How we need to diversify this profession, and thinking of out-of-the-box solutions to make sure that we are reaching the maximum amount of people that we possibly can.”

Woman's portrait

Nancy Godoy

Top photo: Archivist Nancy Godoy helps community member Carlos Dominguez organize his archival materials into different time periods during a workshop at the Tempe Public Library in 2018. Photo by Deanna Dent/ASU

Scott Bordow

Reporter , ASU News