Endangered Coral Reefs Launch Underwater Mapping Off Ocean City Coast

BALTIMORE (WJZ)—Coral reefs are beautiful and endangered. That’s launched a series of underwater mapping programs.

Alex DeMetrick reports that includes ocean off Maryland’s coast.

Coral reefs are early victims of climate change. Warming oceans and more acidic water are believed to have killed off 40 percent of the world’s coral.

“Once we lose coral habitat, that’s sort of the big cities of the ocean. It’s where a lot of animals live, critical habitat really important to the survival of many species,” said Jack Cover, National Aquarium of Baltimore.

Measuring loss means first figuring out how much coral is out there.

The Florida Keys contains this country’s largest barrier reef, and it’s the latest target in a worldwide underwater survey.

Using three cameras to capture a 360-degree view, it’s similar to mapping done on Google Earth’s street view cameras.

“We’ve invested in technologies that enable us to map Mars and Jupiter and the moon and the universe beyond. We’ve been missing out on mapping the ocean,” said Sylvia Earle, oceanographer.

While coral is most common in tropical waters, there is coral off Ocean City as well.

“We have a continental shelf. Once you get to the edge you get a lot of rocky areas. We have star coral and sea whips as well,” Cover said.

Federal researchers are now beginning to map the area off Ocean City.

And while the coral in an aquarium is a man-made imitation, saving the real thing will also take human effort.

“It’s like the ocean is too big to fail, right? Ha! It is failing. It’s up to us now,” Earle said.

And underwater mapping is just the start.

This summer, the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration is using sonar and remote controlled submersibles to map waters off Maryland and the Mid-Atlantic.

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