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Global blueprint for a livable planet

March 15, 2021

By mapping the biodiversity of our Earth, ASU is helping identify how to stem the dual crises of biodiversity loss and climate change

Editor's note: This story originally appeared in the spring 2021 issue of ASU Thrive magazine.

When Greg Asner looks out at the world from one of the countless locales he has visited — through his work mapping biodiversity, he has been all over, from the Brazilian Amazon to the Andes Mountains, Borneo to Madagascar, and beyond — he doesn’t just see the flora and fauna of a region. His unique way of looking at the world goes beyond the perspective he gets from the seat of a twin-propeller plane that soars over the tree canopy or by scuba diving on a coral reef. 

“My brain works on evolutionary time,” said Asner, director of ASU’s Center for Global Discovery and Conservation Science. Even looking out onto the bay outside his window in Hawaii, he sees past its current form to its geological and biological history, to why this place is special. 

The big picture is more than the reefs right under the water’s surface — it’s the history of Hawaii’s isolation and formation that helped bring about the thousands of species that live only in those reefs. 

“I can kind of see it back in time and why it was unique, and I can do that anywhere on the planet,” he said.

It sounds a bit like magic, and in a way it is. But the real magic comes when Asner combines that worldview with Earth-mapping technology. Through that technology, satellite imaging and geospatial data can reveal ecosystems’ details as they exist today — all the animals and plants that live in a certain place. Combine that with Asner’s historical perspective, and he can explain why it’s so crucial to save that land. The technology reveals what species exist there now, and his evolutionary knowledge tells him why that came to be the only place they can exist.

“That’s how I, and the (Global Safety Net) team, view the planet’s surface,” he said. 

The GSN is the culmination of this work. It’s a blueprint for saving areas of Earth essential for biodiversity and climate resilience, and the first estimate of the total amount of land area requiring protection in order to address the dual crises of biodiversity loss and climate change. 

With the ASU Global Institute of Sustainability and Innovation as a key player, the GSN finally answers a complicated question that accompanies any conservation work: Where, exactly, should we put our efforts to save the most species and mitigate the worst of climate change? 

GAO plane

One Earth says that because of the Global Safety Net, 100 articles have been written, 40 maps have been requested and the overall narrative is changing that the environmental issues we currently face, though immense, are solvable.

Why biodiversity matters

In the last 50 years, we’ve lost more than two-thirds of the world’s wildlife populations on average, according to a recent World Wildlife Report. A United Nations report, co-authored by Leah Gerber, director of ASU’s Center for Biodiversity Outcomes, found that Earth’s biodiversity is declining at a rate unprecedented in human history. One million animal and plant species are now threatened with extinction.

That biodiversity loss has huge impacts on humans, no matter where we are. It makes pandemics, like COVID-19, more likely. And the way to prevent diseases from leaping from animals to humans, Gerber wrote in Issues in Science and Technology, “will have to lie with protecting and reporting wildlife habitat and conserving biodiversity.”

Biodiversity is linked to our health in other ways, too. 

“The more (healthy and thriving) species that naturally occur in an area, the better that ecosystem is able to absorb shocks, threats and disturbances,” said Beth Polidoro, an associate professor of environmental chemistry at ASU, involved in the Center for Biodiversity Outcomes. “We need these healthy ecosystems because they provide ecosystem services for us.” 

Healthy forests provide clean air; healthy soil is needed for us to grow food; healthy rivers maintain water quality. 

The Arizona connection

And although biodiversity may conjure images of far-off places, it matters in our own backyards. The Sonoran Desert, covering 100,000 square miles across Arizona, California and Mexico, is the most biodiverse desert on the planet, home to more than 2,000 plant species, more than 350 bird species, 60 mammal species and up to 1,000 species of native bees.

Losing the plants whose roots protect the Colorado River could destabilize a fresh water system that supplies drinking water to 40 million people and nearly 6 million acres of farmland. The loss of bees means losing their pollination services for countless other species. Bulldozing wild land as urban sprawl expands can mean losing wildlife forever. 

In Arizona alone, the GSN would set aside more than 66,000 square miles, or about 59% of all the state’s land, in order to preserve its biodiversity and ecosystems. Crucial areas also extend out west: In Utah, the blueprint would save nearly 59,000 square miles, or 69% of the land; in Nevada, more than 95,000 square miles, or 86% of the state’s land; and in California, some 82,000 square miles, half of the state’s land. The mountains, deserts and canyons that span these states are unique ecosystems and crucial habitats for thousands of species.

Working across departments

Even though Asner is based in Hawaii, he was inspired to come to ASU and start GDCS, he said, because of how the sustainability mandate through President Michael M. Crow isn’t hyperbole — it’s real. 

“The university is trying to play a role beyond standard academia, forging and influencing communities up to U.N.-level decision-making,” he said. 

The goal of GDCS is to understand what we have in terms of biodiversity, Asner explains, and work with decision-makers to find solutions to keep those things alive and healthy on the planet. 

ASU’s sustainability efforts stretch beyond that center. Its work to protect critical biodiversity areas reaches across departments, like to the School of Mathematical and Statistical Sciences, where Steffen Eikenberry is a postdoctoral fellow. Eikenberry uses math to quantify environmental problems like consumption and land use. 

“The climate crisis and biodiversity crisis are twin crises fundamentally driven by consumption throughout the world, primarily the rich world,” he said. But how do you quantify that, and how do you find out the most important things to change in order to solve those crises? “If you want to say anything, you have to do the math.” 

Cross-departmental work for an issue as big as biodiversity is important because of the unique expertise everyone brings to the table. 

Amazon rainforest

Angela Amanakwa Kaxuyana, part of the senior leadership of the Brazilian Coordination of Indigenous peoples in the Amazon, and her team are using the Global Safety Net in the real world to help protect her people’s land in the Amazon rainforest. With 80% of the global biodiversity managed or owned by Indigenous people, Kaxuyana says that scientists and native communities have long held the same goal of wanting to protect the planet. The GSN has provided campaigners and grassroots organizations the key information they need to take action to stop development projects and promote land conservation.

The importance of Indigenous knowledge

More than one-third of the lands identified as biodiversity hot spots in the GSN are communally held by Indigenous peoples, and ASU itself sits on ancestral territories, including the Akimel O’odham (Pima) and Pee Posh (Maricopa) Indian communities. Acknowledging Indigenous peoples is built into ASU’s work as an institution, into Asner’s work as a scientist and into ASU’s audacious goals to protect biodiversity and mitigate climate change.

“We start with the fundamental premise that there have been caretakers of this land long before we showed up in 1885,” said Bryan McKinley Jones Brayboy, director of the Center for Indian Education. One objective of ASU as an institution is to “leverage our place,” and that means considering and working with tribal nations. 

While other institutions and researchers may go on to Indigenous lands and tell Indigenous peoples what they need to do, at ASU, the goal is for Indigenous peoples to be an active part of that effort from the start. That’s especially true when it comes to biodiversity work. 

Indigenous peoples account for 6% of the global population, yet manage 80% of the world’s remaining biodiversity. 

One important approach Asner and ASU take to this work, according to Brayboy, is to consider why so much of the pristine lands are being managed by Indigenous peoples, and what that says about their relationship with these lands. 

“You don’t just need the principles of how people are stewarding and guarding the lands,” Brayboy said, “but you actually need the people themselves.”

Assistant Professor Haunani Kane will soon live that firsthand when she comes to ASU this summer, where she’ll combine her experiences as a Native Hawaiian with Western geospatial technology for the GSN. One example is the way she considers coral, not only as something that grows in the ocean but as something essential to her people. 

“We are looking at these organisms, and the places that we study as a part of ourselves. We believe that we are nothing without our land or without our resources, so that’s really what drives the work that we do,” Kane said. “In terms of climate change, we’re studying the impacts and the changes out of necessity. It’s something that we are trying to understand because our survival and our way of life will depend upon it.”

Global Safety Net

The Global Safety Net, a global blueprint for a livable planet, uses a first layer for already protected areas such as national parks and wildlife sanctuaries. Second are rare-species sites that need to be protected immediately. High-biodiversity areas are third. Regions with large mammals, continuous intact wilderness and climate stabilization areas complete the mapping. Together, they total 50.4% of the planet.

What’s next?

Human activity has pushed us past the point of saving all of nature, but the GSN lays out the path and the map for saving half of Earth’s land (50.4%, to be exact). Any lower and we destabilize those ecosystem services, Asner said, like clean water, pollination, self-regulating forests that don’t require human intervention to keep trees free of pests, and carbon sinks that naturally keep our world from getting too hot. Any higher, and those essentials for living healthy lives on the planet are nearly impossible to achieve.

It will be a feat. 

The GSN is a group effort from ASU, the University of Minnesota, the research organization Resolve and the nongovernmental organization Globaïa. It’s funded by the nonprofit One Earth, and other funding has supported Asner’s aircraft program that did the foundational biodiversity mapping, including the MacArthur Foundation, the film director James Cameron, and media heir William Hearst III. The Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation has also been a big supporter of Asner’s work. 

“We only get one planet,” DiCaprio said at the 2014 United Nations Climate Summit. “Protecting our future on this planet depends on the conscious evolution of our species.” Though he was speaking generally, that sentiment explains why DiCaprio supports One Earth and its work like the GSN: We only have one Earth, and this is a way to save it.

Those big names help researchers like Asner try out new approaches to biodiversity work, whereas governments tend to be more risk-averse. But governments still need to collaborate and establish action plans to preserve these lands.

“What we’re doing is ultimately not the answer,” Asner said. “It’s the pathway for those who want to answer the question of ‘What do we do?’” 

The GSN is a toolkit that decision-makers need to carry out, but getting conservation policy passed can be a challenge. Polidoro has one suggestion: Get scientists involved with writing legislation.

“People that create policies don’t always have access to the scientific literature,” she said. “Find a governmental liaison, a lobbying organization or policy organization that you can connect with and help them draft legislation. ... You can’t work in isolation.”

Asner’s unique way of looking at the world unfortunately doesn’t let him glimpse into the future to see if decision-makers will adopt the GSN. But he’s still sure it will have an impact. The data is publicly available through the GSN site, which has an interactive viewer to let users explore findings by country, ecoregion and all 50 U.S. states. 

“The most powerful thing about the GSN is it serves to teach everyone on the planet what we’ve got,” Asner said.

And what we need to protect. 

Explore Earth’s biodiversity hot spots by video: Get a new perspective on Earth at

Want to contribute to help save these biodiversity hot spots? Donate through the ASU Foundation and specify it’s for GDCS at

Watch the student documentary “Holding on to the Corn,” which shares an intimate look at the Hopi relationship with the Earth at

Learn more about Hopi Tutskwa Permaculture Institute, a community nonprofit based in the village of Kykotsmovi, located in northern Arizona on the Hopi Reservation, at

Story by Kristin Toussaint, the assistant editor of the Impact section at Fast Company. She was previously a senior news reporter at Metro in New York City. All photos courtesy Greg Asner.

Top photo: ASU’s Greg Asner is involved in many projects, from the Global Safety Net that maps biodiversity hotspots, to the Allen Coral Atlas, which maps and monitors coral reefs to help provide data for bringing reefs back to health. He made this image in Micronesia.

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Brayboy named ASU's new vice president for social advancement

February 26, 2021

New duties will include overseeing and implementing a variety of academic and social initiatives in Arizona, Hawaii

Arizona State University’s Bryan McKinley Jones Brayboy has a bevy of job titles and picked up a new one in February.

Brayboy was named the university’s vice president of social advancement. The new title carries with it a lot of national and global responsibilities and duties, and it’s something that Brayboy is eager to get in motion.

“I’m very excited about this portfolio because it allows me to take on new challenges that are near and dear to my heart,” said Brayboy, President’s Professor, director of the Center for Indian Education and ASU’s senior adviser to the president on American Indian affairs. “This work is an opportunity for ASU to continue living our charter. The social advancement aspect is crucial. Part of my role is to convene people and to bring our vast intellectual and research power to assist in helping create the conditions for a better society.”

Brayboy said the new focus area of his job will be to build and strengthen capacity on many levels. He said this starts with individuals, who should develop their personal and academic skills so they can create futures of their own making. He also wants other institutions to utilize ASU’s resources to make themselves stronger in order to better serve their constituents, and for the wider society to create opportunities of racial and economic equity.

ASU President Michael Crow chose Brayboy for the role, saying his reputation as a convenor for facilitating conversation and bringing people together made him the ideal candidate for the job.

"As a New American University committed to being of service, we take seriously our responsibility to support the success of communities, both near and far," Crow said. "ASU's bank of expertise, resources and learning opportunities can help communities to craft well-designed, effective solutions. We want to convene and help empower individuals to achieve their goals and live their best lives."

Brayboy’s new responsibilities will cover a broad spectrum of transformational initiatives, including research projects, sustainability practices, academic and nonprofit collaborations, and social advancements with national and global impacts.

These are items that fall under ASU’s charter and leverage almost all eight of the university’s design aspirations, Brayboy said, which essentially ask the university to assume fundamental responsibility for the economic, social, cultural and overall health of the communities it serves.

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The ASU Charter on Cady Mall on the ASU Tempe campus explains the university's mission to every student, faculty and staff member, and guest. Photo courtesy of ASU News. 

One of the larger objectives before Brayboy is to enact ASU’s vision for work in Hawaii, where a number of partnerships and research projects regarding food systems, oceans and education are already taking place.

“We get asked: Why is ASU in Hawaii? There are several reasons. Hawaii is a clear indicator and harbinger for what will happen in the future regarding our planet. Hawaii is a vibrant state that is, in many ways, an incredible place to explore the planet,” Brayboy said. “The geography includes everything from the top of a mountain to the bottom of the ocean floor and everything in between. It contains vibrant reefs, interesting food systems, unbelievable cultural knowledges and fantastic opportunities for us to learn. And contribute. If we’re really going to engage in — and be guided by — research with local people and explore planetary health and its intersections with rich cultural knowledges, this is the setting for us to be able to do that. The partnerships and relationships we have in Hawaii are so enriching. It goes both ways.”

One place where this is happening is ASU’s Center for Global Discovery and Conservation Science, which launched in Hawaii in 2019 and is led by professors Greg Asner and Robin Martin in the School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning. They have been working to document and save Hawaiian coral reefs, particularly during the 2019 Pacific Ocean warming event, to help hundreds of students and researchers with data from the largest constellation of satellites currently in orbit.

Asner and Martin aren’t the only professors working in Hawaii. ASU last month hired Haunani Kane, a Native Hawaiian scholar who will bring her extensive knowledge in climate science to the School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning and the Center for Global Discovery and Conservation Science as an assistant professor.

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Haunani Kane was hired in 2020 and will bring her extensive knowledge in climate science to ASU as an assistant professor. Photo courtesy Haunani Kane.

Kane’s research combines coastal geomorphology, paleo-environmental reconstructions, spatial analysis and the perspectives of a Native islander to investigate how islands, reefs and island people are impacted by changes in climate. As a National Science Foundation postdoctoral research fellow, she has spent nearly 200 days at sea aboard both traditional sailing and modern research vessels. She is working on a project in Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument, a cultural and natural UNESCO World Heritage site in Hawaii.

ASU Prep Digital, an accredited online school serving students in grades K–12 and school partners around the world, recently helped Kamehameha Schools and Hawaii’s Department of Education build a personalized learning model to allow approximately 6,000 students to continue their education through the pandemic. The coursework emphasizes STEM exercises, language and culture.

According to Lisa Edgar, chief partnership officer for ASU Prep Digital, her division was charged with building this model within a hundred days. Not only did they make their goal, but she said students are thriving under this format.

“When the pandemic hit, we partnered with these schools to help ensure their students could continue their learning in a flexible and personalized approach,” Edgar said. “Not only are we helping to provide learning continuity for these students, but we are also giving students an opportunity to be exposed to university-level courseware early on in their high school career.”

Brayboy said this is the perfect example of social advancement.

“ASU Prep Digital built a school for the immediate needs borne of a global health pandemic. But they did so in a way that addresses the mid-term impacts of providing students with opportunities to also earn college credits and an even longer-term benefit of being prepped to complete a college degree in an increasingly complex society,” Brayboy said. “That’s part of the work of social advancement. It’s great for the individual students, it dramatically improved the institution’s ability to meet the educational needs of its students, and it created a small sense of equilibrium in communities and a society facing massive health disparities.”

The university is also building and investing in longer-term initiatives in Hawaii, including tagging along on the Polynesian Voyaging Society’s worldwide canoe trip that will visit approximately 45 countries, including 100 Indigenous territories and archipelagos. The 41,000-nautical mile circumnavigation of the Pacific Ocean is expected to take 42 months.

ASU is partnering with other organizations to support the creation of a “Third Canoe” — an online platform that will allow educators and students across the globe to virtually participate and learn. The idea is to draw attention to the voyage and inspire people to make good sustainability choices for a healthier planet.

Generally, there are only 12 to15 individuals on any leg of a sail. The Third Canoe will create virtual reality experiences that will allow millions of people to experience part of a voyage, with the possibilities of virtual labs and educational experiences, linking learners across the globe around the common theme of planetary health and the future of the planet.

“The opportunity to leverage our online learning assets with our creativity and innovation with the courage and vision of PVS and its navigators advances our understanding of the Pacific Ocean, a 10 million-square-mile body of water, and it allows us to connect people from Arizona to Tahiti to Chile on this sail,” Brayboy said. “In that effort, we advance our collective understanding of what decisions we can make as individuals and organizations — as a broad global community — to be better stewards of the home we all share: Mother Earth.”

Jody Kaulukukui, senior advancement officer for the ASU Foundation who is based in Hawaii, said, “Bryan Brayboy is the ideal choice for this position. He understands that relationships are important for an island community, and he works hard to be a trusted and valuable partner.” And of Kaulukukui, Brayboy said, “She’s the secret sauce to our efforts. None of this happens without her wisdom and guidance.”

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ASU's Bryan Brayboy (far right) meeting with a contingent of representatives with the Polynesian Voyaging Society in Hawaii during a three-day meeting at ASU in February 2020. Photo courtesy of Bryan Brayboy.

 Closer to home, Brayboy will work on:

  • Advancing the overall mission of “To Be Welcoming,” an online curriculum developed by EdPlus at ASU — now residing in Learning Enterprise — for all Starbucks employees that is intended to drive reflection and conversation on the topic of bias. The curriculum has been adapted for use by ASU students and the community at large. It helps individuals work through challenges from perspectives of curiosity and understanding, Brayboy said: “Employers and society want individuals who seek to understand the experiences of those different than they are. It’s good for everyone.” He is working closely with the School of Social Transformation (Jessica Solyom and Mako Fitts Ward) on this effort. Brian Nethero (EdPlus at ASU), Kim Merritt (ASU Learning Enterprise), and Lisa Young (Office of University Affairs) have also been crucial to this effort, Brayboy said.

  • Coordinating with Sukhwant Jhaj, vice provost of academic innovation and student advancement, and dean of University College; Cassandra Aska, dean of students; Melissa Pizzo, associate vice president of Enrollment Services; and Jacob Moore, assistant vice president for tribal relations, to build a data-driven model of success that will help the university to make better decisions in serving Indigenous students. If successful, they will use the model to serve other populations at the university. 

These new duties sound like a lot of responsibility, but Brayboy said his job is really simple.

“I’m a facilitator of other peoples’ success — I’m not the reason for their success,” he said. “My job is to make sure they have what they need, get out of their way and let them do their good work. How great is that?” 

Top photo: President's Professor and new Vice President of Social Advancement at Arizona State University Bryan Brayboy poses for a portrait outside his home in Phoenix on Feb. 16, 2021. Photo by Deanna Dent/ASU News 

Scientists discover ocean 'surface slicks' are nurseries for diverse fishes

February 4, 2021

The open ocean is a harsh place for newborn fishes. From the minute larvae hatch from their eggs, their survival depends upon finding food and navigating ocean currents to their adult habitats — all while avoiding predators. This harrowing journey from egg to home has long been a mystery, until now. 

An international team including scientists from the Arizona State University Center for Global Discovery and Conservation Science (GDCS), NOAA’s Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center, and the University of Hawaii at Mānoa have discovered a diverse array of young marine animals finding refuge within so-called "surface slicks" in Hawaii. Surface slicks create a superhighway of nursery habitat for more than 100 species of commercially and ecologically important fishes, such as mahi-mahi, jacks and billfish. The study was published Feb. 4 in the journal Scientific Reports. Fish diversity in surface slicks Composite image showing just a small portion of the remarkable diversity of larval and juvenile fishes and invertebrates found living in surface slick nurseries along the west Hawaii island. Larval photos: Jonathan Whitney (NOAA Fisheries), Slick photo: Joey Lecky (NOAA Fisheries). Download Full Image

Surface slicks are naturally occurring ribbon-like bands of smooth water at the ocean surface and have long been recognized as an important part of the seascape. To unravel their secrets, the research team conducted more than 130 plankton net tows inside the surface slicks and surrounding waters along the leeward coast of the Island of Hawaii, while studying ocean properties. In these areas, they searched for larvae and other plankton that live close to the surface. They then combined those in-water surveys with a new satellite-based technique to map the location of the slicks. This technique involved using more than 100 shoebox-sized satellites, built and operated by GDCS partner Planet, to discern textural sea surface differences between surface slicks and regular seawater.

“In an earlier study, our surface slick mapping suggested strong along-coast connectivity of ocean habitats. In our latest study reported here, we populated those satellite-based slick maps with the billions of animals, organic debris and microplastics that make up the slicks," said Greg Asner, GDCS director and co-author of the study.

Though the slicks only covered around 8% of the ocean surface in the 380-square-mile-study area, they contained an astounding 39% of the study area's surface-dwelling larval fish; over 25% of its zooplankton, and 75% of its floating organic debris, such as feathers and leaves. Larval fish densities in surface slicks off west Hawaii were, on average, over 7 times higher than densities in the surrounding waters.

The study showed that surface slicks function as a nursery habitat for marine larvae of at least 112 species of commercially and ecologically important fishes, as well as many other animals. These include coral reef fishes, such as jacks, triggerfish, and goatfish; pelagic predators, for example, mahi-mahi; deep-water fishes, such as lanternfish; and various invertebrates, such as snails, crabs and shrimp.

The remarkable diversity of fishes found in slick nurseries represents nearly 10% of all fish species recorded in Hawaii. The total number of taxa in the slicks was twice that found in the surrounding surface waters, and many fish taxa were between 10 and 100 times more abundant in slicks. 

“We were shocked to find larvae of so many species, and even entire families of fishes, that were only found in surface slicks,” said Jonathan Whitney, a research marine ecologist for NOAA and lead author of the study. “The fact that surface slicks host such a large proportion of larvae, along with the resources they need to survive, tells us they are critical for the replenishment of adult fish populations,” he added.

In addition to providing crucial nursing habitat for various species and helping maintain healthy and resilient coral reefs, slicks create foraging hot spots for larval fish predators and form a bridge between coral reef and pelagic ecosystems

"Our findings are part of an important story forming around the role of biological surface slicks in maintaining coral reefs. The sheer biodiversity and biomass of the slicks, combined with their oceanic movement along the shore, form a superhighway for species that connects and effectively generates an interconnected, regional reef ecosystem," Asner said. 

While slicks may seem like havens for all tiny marine animals, there's a hidden hazard lurking in these ocean oases: plastic debris. Within the study area, 95% of the plastic debris collected into slicks, compared with 75% of the floating organic debris. Larvae may get some shelter from plastic debris, but it comes at the cost of chemical exposure and incidental ingestion. 

In certain areas, slicks can be dominant surface features, and the new research shows these conspicuous phenomena hold more ecological value than meets the eye. 

"Our work illustrates how these oceanic features (and animals’ behavioral attraction to them) impact the entire surface community, with implications for the replenishment of adults that are important to humans for fisheries, recreation and other ecosystem services," said Margaret McManus, co-author, professor and chair of the Department of Oceanography at the University of Hawaii at Mānoa. “These findings will have a broad impact, changing the way we think about oceanic features as pelagic nurseries for ocean fishes and invertebrates.”

Heather D'Angelo

Communications director, Center for Global Discovery and Conservation Science

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A new vision of coral reef sustainability

January 29, 2021

Allen Coral Atlas provides data insights and actionable steps to preserving reef systems around the world

The world’s coral reefs are at risk.

To save them, we’ve got to see them — clearly, and in the “big picture.”

Fans of Disney’s "Finding Nemo" see coral reefs as vibrant, colorful underwater worlds. In real life, the world’s reefs face serious challenges, including rising sea temperatures, choking sediments and overfishing.

The Allen Coral Atlas powers solutions to these problems with high-resolution mapping and monitoring that governments and researchers can put to use to save coral reefs. It is funded by Vulcan Inc., a private company founded by Jody Allen and the late Paul Allen with a mission to make and leave the world a better place. The atlas was developed through a unique partnership between Arizona State University, University of Queensland, National Geographic Society, Planet and Vulcan.

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A benthic map of the state of coral reefs around Fiji. Image courtesy Allen Coral Atlas 

As of the first of the year, Arizona State University has taken on the leadership of the atlas. It’s a powerful tool to map and monitor coral reefs around the globe and provides that “big picture” scientists and policymakers need to bring coral reefs back to health.

ASU President Michael Crow announced that Greg Asner will be the new lead of the Allen Coral Atlas. Asner is currently the director of the Center for Global Discovery and Conservation Science (GDCS) at ASU.

“We are pleased to take the leadership role in this incredible partnership with Vulcan and other organizations of the Allen Coral Atlas," Crow said. "The goals of the atlas are a perfect fit with ASU’s mission to achieve sustainable futures at a global level, and GDCS is the ideal home for the atlas going forward.”

The Allen Coral Atlas maps can show changes among the world’s massive reefs at a level of detail of just a few square meters. From the maps and other analytics, reef scientists and managers can spot threats and head off risks with innovative solutions.

“For nearly three years, my team and our partners have been working in the trenches to create the Allen Coral Atlas from a concept to a scalable mapping and monitoring program," Asner said. "Following Vulcan’s outstanding leadership over these past years, GDCS is well-positioned to take on management of the program and its partnerships.”

Reefs do far more than serve as a home for colorful marine life. According to reporting by National Geographic, it’s estimated that 500 million people earn their livings from fishing and tourism that depend on coral reefs. These underwater ecosystems can also soften the blows of hurricanes on fragile coastlines.

In addition to the global maps, many new capabilities are slated to roll out this year, such as technology that will make it possible to detect subtle changes to reefs over time. Until now, most science has been focused on the damage to reefs from large-scale “bleaching events” that interfere with the life cycles of the organisms that build reefs. But sediments can also cause damage, so the GDCS team has built the capacity to see ocean sediment and quantify its severity. With this new technology in hand, researchers can quickly identify and act on potential threats to reef ecosystems. Future applications of the atlas technology will include robotics, artificial intelligence and new satellites to further expand the platform’s capacity.

Waimanalo bleaching image

Atlas image of the bleaching of coral reefs at Waimanalo Beach, Hawaii. Courtesy of Allen Coral Atlas

In 2019, GDCS piloted a beta version of the atlas monitoring system in the Hawaiian Islands during the Pacific Ocean warming event. ASU and its partnering agencies engaged Hawaii's citizens with the new monitoring system to report observed coral bleaching throughout the archipelago. Community feedback helped atlas scientists tune the new algorithms to actual coral bleaching as it occurred.

“The new monitoring system literally changed how we view coral bleaching and thus the management responses we can invoke to reduce pressure on the reef,” said Brian Neilson, head of Hawaii’s Division of Aquatic Resources.

Allen Coral Atlas maps continue to roll out, but they have already had an impact worldwide. In 2020, the atlas habitat maps played a key role in the Sri Lankan government’s effort to expand their marine national parks and to carry out reef restoration work. 

“Our growing international experience continues to drive home the scalable potential of our effort, mapping and monitoring a world of coral reefs at a resolution that is actionable at local to regional levels,” said Paulina Gerstner, ASU program director for the Allen Coral Atlas.

Right now, users can download habitat maps, satellite imagery and ocean depth data from the Allen Coral Atlas website. GDCS will also be inviting ASU students to apply for upcoming internships and opportunities to collaborate on this exciting research venture.

Allen Coral Atlas

An example of the multitude of data available on the Hawaiian Islands, among other worldwide locations, on the atlas tool. Courtesy Allen Coral Atlas. 

“This is the tip of the iceberg in global reef science for governance and the public. We can and must do more to support activities that increase awareness and drive innovations to protect, restore and steward coral reefs into the future,” Asner said.

The Center for Global Discovery and Conservation Science is part of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences as well as the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Futures Laboratory at ASU, an effort to make meaningful contributions to ensuring a habitable planet and a future in which well-being is attainable.

ASU professor uses background as Hawaiian voyager, climate scientist to provide inclusive understanding of environment

January 13, 2021

Haunani Kane was raised at the base of Olomana in the coastal community of Kailua, Oahu, Hawaii, where she practiced traditional Hawaiian wayfinding and navigation from a young age. This early interest in and connection to the environment led her to pursue a PhD in earth and planetary sciences at the University of Hawaii. 

This year, Kane will bring her extensive knowledge in climate science to Arizona State University’s School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning and Center for Global Discovery and Conservation Science (GDCS) as an assistant professor. portrait of ASU Assistant Professor Haunani Kane This year, Haunani Kane will bring her extensive knowledge in climate science to Arizona State University’s School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning and Center for Global Discovery and Conservation Science as an assistant professor. Download Full Image

“We are thrilled to have Haunani Kane join us in The College,” said Pardis Mahdavi, dean of social sciences in The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. “As an innovator in her field, a first-rate scholar and an outstanding educator, she is a wonderful addition to our faculty at ASU. I am eager to see what exciting developments she makes in her new role.”

Kane’s research combines coastal geomorphology, paleo-environmental reconstructions, spatial analysis and the perspectives of a native islander to investigate how islands, reefs and island people are impacted by changes in climate. As a National Science Foundation postdoctoral research fellow, she has spent nearly 200 days at sea aboard both traditional sailing and modern research vessels. 

“This is a game changer for ASU. Having a stellar scientist who also deeply understands Hawaiian knowledge systems as part of our efforts in Hawaii and in our university allows us to engage in new scientific efforts, prepare our students differently, widen our global footprint and be responsible partners in Hawaii and throughout the Pacific,” said Bryan Brayboy, President’s Professor in the School of Social Transformation, director of the Center for Indian Education and special adviser to the president on American Indian affairs.

In addition, Kane's research and teaching relies upon reestablishing ancestral relationships to place. Through this process, she strives to provide a more inclusive understanding of the impacts of environmental stressors and ensure that the best available climate science data is reflective of all stories of place and their people.

“Growing up in Hawaii, I was taught early on the profound impact that an exceptional teacher and mentor can have on your life,” Kane said. “My teachers taught from their experiences and relationships with place. They used the ocean as a classroom, the sky as a blackboard and traditional deep-sea voyages on double-hulled canoes as our final exam. Most importantly, they taught me to critically think about the world around me through the lens of my ancestors and as a modern scientist. These amazing teachers instilled upon me the responsibility of providing the same learning opportunities and guidance to the next generation.”

She is currently working on a project in Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument, a cultural and natural UNESCO World Heritage site located in Hawaii. Building upon a Hawaiian proverb “He pūkoʻa kani ʻāina” that describes how reefs grow into islands, she is looking to identify the biogeological linkages that enable or limit island resilience to storms and sea level rise. 

Gregory Asner, director of GDCS, said Kane's ability to combine her intergenerational knowledge with contemporary scientific know-how is just one of the reasons he is thrilled to have her join the faculty at GDCS, based in Hawaii and Arizona.

“Amazingly, her approach also weaves in adventure and discovery as lead navigator for the Polynesian Voyaging Society,” Asner added.

Kane said it is the creative ways that learning is conducted at ASU that drew her to The College.

“The opportunity to reach students using ASU's online platform provides countless opportunities to not only explore the ways in which we teach but to also provide new opportunities for students from all backgrounds across the globe,” she said. “I am excited to join the Center for Global Discovery and Conservation Science. GDCS is a leader in conservation research because of their ability to provide global solutions to marine and terrestrial environments. The opportunity to conduct really impactful research at home in Hawaii has been a goal of mine since graduate school.”

Outside of her academic work, Kane enjoys surfing, sailing and spending time with her family. She is actively involved in traditional voyaging and has visited many islands across the Pacific by canoe. She hopes to develop and teach a course that incorporates voyaging and science.

Emily Balli

Communications Specialist and Lead Writer, The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences

Mapping corals from the sky guides reef conservation

December 14, 2020

Coral reefs are one of the most biodiverse ecosystems on the planet supporting an estimated 25% of all marine species. These biologically rich ecosystems are threatened by multiple stressors, from warming ocean temperatures brought on by climate change to increases in water pollution from coastal development.

According to current estimates, 75% of the world’s coral reefs could face critical threat levels by 2050. Scientists widely agree that immediate and well-targeted action must be taken to preserve coral reefs for future generations. However, without a clear understanding of where live corals are found, management and conservation efforts will remain hampered at best and ineffective at worst. Global Airborne Observatory The Arizona State University Global Airborne Observatory on a mapping mission over north Maui Island coast. Download Full Image

Previous work to assess live coral cover has been constrained by technical limitations inherent to available surveillance approaches. For instance, detailed field-based surveys are geographically limited, while satellites cannot track corals at resolutions detailed enough for many types of management activities.

Airborne technologies, however, can collect enormous tracts of contiguous high-resolution data within a single survey, providing insights into both coral health and extent. If the resulting maps can indicate the location of live corals, then specific strategies can be created to preserve, protect and restore them.

A critical case in point is the Hawaiian Islands, an icon of the natural world and the modern-day stresses underway on reef ecosystems. Coastal development has resulted in hot spots of sedimentation, waterborne pollutants and reef removal, while fishing and other resource uses have generated declines in reef resilience. Marine heatwaves, driven by a warming global climate, have also periodically engulfed the Hawaiian Islands, with the 2015 and 2019 coral bleaching events being the most recent. The 2015 event caused widespread coral death, but the geographic extent of coral loss or resistance has remained poorly understood, as it has in reef regions throughout the world.

Using a new airborne mapping approach developed by researchers at Arizona State University’s Center for Global Discovery and Conservation Science, the geographic distribution of live corals was, for the first time, quantified to 16 meters (52.5 feet) of water depth across the main Hawaiian Islands. The study was published Dec. 14 in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America.

“We undertook this first-ever mapping of a large archipelago to determine where corals live in Hawaiian waters despite repeated heatwaves and problematic coastal development issues,” said Greg Asner, lead author of the study and director of the Center for Global Discovery and Conservation Science. “It’s this basic information that is needed by partner organizations to drive more cost-effective protections, restoration activities, and public engagement.”

The mapping data were collected by the ASU Global Airborne Observatory, an aircraft-based laboratory developed by Asner and his team that houses advanced Earth-mapping technology. By combining laser-guided imaging spectroscopy and artificial intelligence, the new approach reveals unprecedented views of coral reefs below the ocean surface. The maps show where live corals persist as well as areas of degraded reef.

“Operational mapping of live coral cover within and across Hawaii’s reef ecosystems affords opportunities for managers and policymakers to better address reef protection, resilience and restoration,” said Brian Neilson, head of Hawaii’s Division of Aquatic Resources and study co-author. “With these new maps, we have a better shot at protecting what we have while focusing on where to improve conditions for corals and the myriad of species that depend upon corals.”

The team’s mapping of live corals was integrated with geospatial information on coastal and marine activities, and computer algorithms were used to estimate which factors most closely predict where corals are currently found on Hawaiian reefs. The results of the analysis revealed that nearshore development has a major negative relationship with live corals.

“Never before has there been such a detailed and synoptic view of live corals at this scale,” said co-author Jamison Gove of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. “These findings are foundational for developing place-based conservation and management strategies to promote reef persistence and mitigate further losses in corals across Hawaii.” 

The new mapping approach also pointed out areas where corals show resilience to human-driven environmental stressors. These regions of coral survival, deemed "refugia," suggest that some corals and some sites are more resilient, and are thus prime locations for enhanced coral conservation. Garnering a greater understanding of coral survivorship could also alter predictions of whether corals will survive in the current and future ocean climate.

“We are trying to make major leaps on the science and technology side to directly address coral reef conservation and management challenges, starting in the Hawaiian Islands,” Asner said. “Our hope is that these outcomes will grow the discussion among communities, environmental managers and elected officials, without which, we will continue to lose coral reefs right before our eyes.”

The study was supported by the Lenfest Ocean Program and The Battery Foundation. 

Heather D'Angelo

Communications director, Center for Global Discovery and Conservation Science

New study uses satellites and field studies to improve coral reef restoration

November 10, 2020

Our planet’s coral reef ecosystems are in peril from multiple threats. Anthropogenic CO2 has sparked a rise in global average sea surface temperatures, pushing reef survival beyond its upper thermal limits.

Coastal development from industry, aquaculture and infrastructure generates sedimentation and increased turbidity in coastal waters, which raises particulate organic carbon (POC) levels. Additionally, sedimentation reduces photosynthetically active radiation (PAR), the much-needed sunlight soaked up by the symbiotic algae corals rely on for food.  Coral Outplanting “Coral gardening” or “outplanting” has become a popular and promising solution for restoration. Download Full Image

With most of the world’s reefs under stress, “coral gardening” or “outplanting” has become a popular and promising solution for restoration.

Outplanting involves transplanting nursery-grown coral fragments onto degraded reefs. When successful, outplanting helps build coral biomass and restore reef function; but even with thousands of corals outplanted each year, the results are mixed. Newly settled corals are particularly vulnerable to stressors such as pollution, unfavorable light conditions and temperature fluctuations.

Therefore, identifying which stressors have the greatest bearing on coral health and survival is crucial for ensuring successful reef restoration.

A new study published in Restoration Ecology by researchers from Arizona State University’s Center for Global Discovery and Conservation Science found evidence that POC levels are one of the most important factors in determining coral outplant survival. This finding suggests that potential coral outplanting sites should be selected in areas where sedimentation levels are low, away from coastal development, or where coastal development is carefully managed for reef conservation.

“New restoration protocols can use remotely sensed data of multiple oceanographic variables to assess the environmental history of a site. This will help evaluate and optimize site selection and give their outplants the best chance of survival,” said Shawna Foo, lead author and postdoctoral researcher at the ASU center.

The study was based on an analysis of coral outplanting projects worldwide between 1987 and 2019. The team assessed satellite-based data on multiple oceanographic variables including POC, PAR, salinity, sea surface temperature and surface currents to quantify and assess each environmental driver’s relative importance to and influence on coral outplant survival. 

"Our results provide, for the first time, a clear set of conditions needed to maximize the success of coral restoration efforts. The findings are based on a vast global dataset and provide a critically needed compass to improving the performance of coral outplants in the future," said Greg Asner, co-author of the study and director of the Center for Global Discovery and Conservation Science.

Notably, the researchers observed better survival rates for corals outplanted farther away from the coast than 6 kilometers. This finding has implications for many restoration projections, which are often located near land for accessibility purposes, such as diving operations.

The researchers also found better coral recovery in water deeper than 6 meters; corals outplanted in shallow waters showed elevated vulnerability to disturbance and bleaching. Overall, coral outplants had the greatest chance of survival in regions with stable PAR, lower levels of POC, minimal temperature anomalies, and increased water depth and distance away from land. The researchers note that finding restoration sites with all of these characteristics could pose a challenge in some areas, but a consideration of all drivers in combination will greatly help the chances of outplant survival.

The study was supported by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, OceanX and the Avatar Alliance Foundation.

Heather D'Angelo

Communications director, Center for Global Discovery and Conservation Science

Location, extent of coral reefs mapped worldwide using advanced AI

ASU researchers' methodology predicts location of shallow coral reefs with nearly 90% accuracy

October 27, 2020

Nearly 75% of the world’s coral reefs are under threat from global stressors such as climate change and local stressors such as overfishing and coastal development. Those working to understand and protect coral reefs are building the know-how to mitigate the damage, but doing so requires first knowing where reefs are located. 

Many approaches, such as diver-based observation and satellite imagery, have been used to estimate the distribution of coral reefs around the world, but past approaches have led to inconsistent accuracy because the underlying data are derived from disparate sources and varying methodologies. allen coral atlas Visual comparisons of a map by the United Nations Environment Program World Conservation Monitoring Centre (UNEP-WCMC), the leading global coral reef map, and the ASU Center for Global Discovery and Conservation Science coral reef extent map in different regions, including (a) Great Barrier Reef, Australia, Papua New Guinea, Indonesia; (b) Madagascar, East Africa; (c) Red Sea, Samoa, Virgin Islands. Download Full Image

Now, researchers from the Arizona State University Center for Global Discovery and Conservation Science have generated a global coral reef extent map using a single methodology capable of predicting the location of shallow coral reefs with nearly 90% accuracy. The study was published in the journal, Coral Reefs.

The team used convolutional neural networks, an advanced artificial intelligence approach, along with thousands of satellite images from Planet Inc. to create the new global map. Planet Inc.’s satellites obtain daily coverage of the Earth’s landmass and its coral reefs at a 3.7-meter resolution. Many of these satellites are as small as a loaf of bread but, operating together, they collect over 11 terabytes of data every day.

This continuous stream of imagery yields a massive amount of data — too much for even a large team of scientists to manually sort through. Using convolutional neural networks and ASU’s supercomputer, the team was able to analyze the data and extract the locations of shallow reefs less than 20 meters (70 feet) of water depth worldwide. 

The maps are openly available through the Allen Coral Atlas, a collaborative partnership between ASU, Vulcan Inc., Planet Inc., University of Queensland and National Geographic Society to map and monitor the world’s coral reefs in unprecedented detail. 

“The new map represents our best estimate of the location of shallow coral reefs on the planet, and it guides next steps including our ongoing collaboration to map the composition of these reefs and their changing health over time,” said first author Jiwei Li of the Center for Global Discovery and Conservation Science.

The researchers indicated that these new maps can be used with other global maps or datasets to create derived data or analytic products. Some immediate uses of the map at the Allen Coral Atlas include determining where to monitor for coral bleaching, a global phenomenon driven by ocean warming.   

“This first-ever A.I.-driven map of the world’s coral reefs is just a drop in the bucket compared to what we have coming out over the next year and beyond," said Greg Asner, co-author of the study and ASU’s Allen Coral Atlas lead. "The partnership is already rolling out much more detailed reef composition maps on a region-by-region basis, and we are preparing to launch a global reef monitoring system that detects bleaching. These and other large-scale marine technology innovations are already helping conservation, management and resource policy specialists make decisions. That’s our big picture goal.”

Heather D'Angelo

Communications director, Center for Global Discovery and Conservation Science

ASU researchers contribute to global 'blueprint' to save nature, stabilize Earth’s climate

September 14, 2020

In 2019, an international team of scientists, Indigenous leaders and conservationists presented the “Global Deal for Nature” (GDN), an ambitious plan calling upon world leaders to formally protect half of Earth’s terrestrial, freshwater and marine realms by 2030. The GDN was the first effort to set timebound, science-based conservation targets for the entire planet. 

Greg Asner, director of the Arizona State University Center for Global Discovery and Conservation Science and co-author of the paper noted, “Many distinguished experts have endorsed the idea of setting aside half the surface of the Earth to protect biodiversity. The Global Deal for Nature greatly advances this idea by specifying the amounts, places, and types of protections needed to get this effort moving in the right direction.” gsn Download Full Image

Building upon this previous work, “A 'Global Safety Net' to reverse biodiversity loss and stabilize Earth’s climate" was recently published in Science Advances. The GSN provides the first comprehensive estimate of the total protected land area required to solve the dual crises of biodiversity loss and climate change. The GSN identifies six main “layers” of high ecological priority, such as high biodiversity areas, regions that harbor many rare species and areas that sequester large amounts of carbon.

To these areas, the GSN also incorporates potential wildlife corridors, lands where fragmented ecosystems can be rejoined. Taken together, the layers of the GSN total approximately half of the world’s land, helping to execute the charge “conserve at least half and in the right places,” as recommended by the Convention on Biological Diversity and the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

Like the GDN, the GSN is science-based and timebound; the authors intend it to be used as a dynamic tool to assess progress toward the comprehensive conservation targets set forth by the GDN.

“This is the first digital map of its kind to create a blueprint for saving life on Earth," said lead author Eric Dinerstein. "It builds upon the current network of protected areas but weaves in currently unprotected parcels that conserve the biological wealth of Earth. By connecting these parcels with wildlife corridors, these vital strands create a true safety net, one that can inoculate us from further biodiversity loss and future pandemics by conserving habitats where zoonotic diseases are likely to cross over to human populations.”

The authors of the GSN highlighted the urgency of this plan in light of the recent ongoing coronavirus pandemic. The policy milestones and targets set forth within the GSN framework would eliminate wildlife markets and the wildlife trade — two known sources of zoonotic spillovers. Preventing further tropical deforestation would lessen human and animal crossover, helping to mitigate human exposure to viral hosts. 

The GSN outlines a pathway to achieve its goals using nature-based solutions. Nature-based solutions are low-cost, readily available today and provide benefits to both people and nature. Some of the solutions outlined in the study include identifying biodiverse nonagricultural lands for increased conservation attention, prioritizing ecoregions that optimize carbon storage and drawdown, and aiding species movement and adaptation across ecosystems by creating a comprehensive system of wildlife and climate corridors. The authors estimate that an increase of just 2.3% more land in the right places could save our planet’s most threatened species within five years. 

“The Global Safety Net is a powerful global road map to mitigate climate change and avert the collapse of our natural biological infrastructure. The GSN is actionable at all scales, from local to national, but it is imperative that national governments act quickly to develop detailed action plans to achieve these goals,” Asner said.

Thirty-seven percent of the proposed lands for increased conservation protection overlap with Indigenous lands, highlighting the central role Indigenous peoples and their lands play to preserve global biodiversity and major carbon reservoirs. GSN biodiversity objectives could be attained on an estimated one-third of proposed conservation areas through practices such as upholding Indigenous land tenure rights and resourcing programs on Indigenous-managed lands. 

The compiled data for the Global Safety Net has been made available through an interactive web application led by One Earth and produced in partnership with Google Earth Engine. Users can click on a country or ecoregion to see how every country and region can contribute in different ways toward this common goal. 

Heather D'Angelo

Communications director, Center for Global Discovery and Conservation Science

Tempe to Hawaii: ASU professors teach Hawaiian youth about coral reef conservation

ASU faculty and staff group is working to bring new educational opportunities to Indigenous and non-Indigenous Hawaiian communities

August 21, 2020

Against a backdrop of a clear blue sky, slender palm trees and waves crashing against black lava rocks along Hawaii’s South Kona coastline, a dozen youths ages eight to 17 sat silent and wide-eyed as Greg Asner and Robin Martin told stories of deep underwater dives and aerial missions to protect and save Hawaii’s coral reefs. 

Asner, director of ASU’s Center for Global Discovery and Conservation Science (GDCS) and professor in the School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning, and Martin, associate professor in the School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning, were volunteer teachers this summer at South Kona’s Lawaiʻa ʻOhana Camp.  Lawaiʻa ʻOhana Camp students, teachers, camp leaders and parents. Photo courtesy of Greg Asner and Robin Martin Download Full Image

The multiday immersion offered children in the coastal fishing village of Miloliʻi the opportunity to learn about Indigenous island culture, local traditions, and environmental research and stewardship. 

“We taught them about different types of Hawaiian corals, what they are and why they are important,” said Asner, who specializes in marine ecology and remote sensing. “It was so uplifting in so many ways. The kids were phenomenal, they took ownership of their new knowledge. Nothing was passive. All active.” 

In addition to the students there in person, 30 more students living in other regions of Hawaii joined virtually via Zoom and Facebook Live, due to COVID-19 safety measures. 

“The students were super excited, particularly to learn that you can map coral cover from an airplane and that the area of West Hawaii where they live ranks fifth for highest coral cover across all of Hawaii,” said Martin, a biochemist and remote sensing expert. “My favorite moment was when the students were all asked to reflect and share about what they learned throughout the entire camp. Over half the students said different aspects of coral. We made it exciting. That felt really good.” 

Asner and Martin’s participation in the camp is just one piece of an important partnership that places ASU in the center of important work to break down geographic barriers to education and expand opportunities to Native and non-Native Hawaiian communities.

A community united 

Asner and Martin, who are husband and wife in addition to being a research duo, have studied coral reefs across the Hawaiian islands for more than two decades. 

Currently, within ASU’s GDCS they are pioneering research aimed at mapping coral reef ecosystems that address alarming losses in coral biodiversity. By integrating high-tech airborne data on corals with fieldwork on the fish that occupy the reef, Asner and Martin are helping Hawaii state managers to identify areas for conservation. 

In a collaborative approach to regional ecological research, GDCS partners with the local Hawaiian community organization Paʻa Pono Miloliʻi to intersect traditional Hawaiian knowledge with contemporary science as it relates to coral reef and fisheries conservation and management.

The work not only promotes scientists and local communities working together but ensures that Native culture, customs and traditions are considered in coral reef resilience planning.

The long-standing partnership has already generated a range of conservation activities, including local programs and training at every stage of a student’s educational journey from youth to PhD education. 

Asner says one hope of the partnership is that expanding local learning opportunities could spark interest in local science and conservation and help usher in a new generation of native Hawaiian environmental resource managers. 

“Many local Hawaiians have been excluded from the state-level processes of reef management,” Asner said. “So we are going to the youth and participating in education and capacity-building at all levels, from K to PhD. The Lawaiʻa Camp was about the earliest stage of interaction between ASU-GDCS, Paʻa Pono Miloliʻi and the community.” 

ASU’s expanded opportunities in Hawaii 

In leading this important work to extend education across Hawaii, Asner and Martin are not alone. 

Jody Kaulukukui, senior advancement officer for ASU Foundation, has been leading critical work around making ASU’s K-12 online school platform, ASU Prep Digital, available to the communities in Hawaii that may need and benefit from it most. 

Additionally, Asner and others have been leading educational efforts to promote ASU Online’s bachelor’s degree program in geography across Hawaii.

“We’re scratching at this and it’s early days but that’s where we’re taking it,” Asner said. “We’re trying to break the barrier, even the playing field, and give communities more uniform access to different types of learning so they can grow their knowledge in their areas of interest.”

Additional ASU support also comes from faculty and staff in ASU’s Global Institute of Sustainability and the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Futures Laboratory at ASU

“We’re working hard here to generate connections, and we have a constellation of ASU people working on this together,” Asner added. 

Measured by whom we include 

Despite their packed schedules as full-time faculty and field-researchers, Asner says the Hawaiian community work he, Martin and others from ASU are leading is important, not only for its societal impact but as a commitment to living out ASU’s charter, which prioritizes the inclusion of all diverse peoples regardless of age, location and background. 

“While we may not generate immediate ASU students by doing work with K–12, we know we are generating future students,” Asner said. “ASU is now known and liked in far reaches of Hawaii, like Miloliʻi, in part, because we are here and we are focused on their future. 

“The reward is huge from the mind to the heart. We love being part of the broader solution that President Crow has laid out for us to pursue. Every extra hour continues to pay off in spades.” 

David Rozul

Communications Specialist, School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning