Digitizing the Coral Reefs of Easter Island and Salas y Gómez

Ecology and Sustainable Management of Oceanic Islands
Open Access
DOI: 10.18258/1657
Raised of $1,000 Goal
Funded on 1/31/15
Successfully Funded
  • $1,025
  • 102%
  • Funded
    on 1/31/15

Project Results

About This Project

On remote tropical islands, coral reefs can be affected by the impacts of strong waves and historical overfishing. This project will focus on the effects those impacts have on the coral reefs of Easter Island and Salas y Gómez. Imagery of the benthic communities will be recorded using advanced digital photomosaic technology, as described by Gintert et al., (2012). The images will provide data on the overall health of the coral reefs through time.

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What is the context of this research?

Due to their extreme remoteness in the southeastern Pacific Ocean, the coral reefs of Easter Island and Salas y Gómez are extemely unique ecosystems with high endemic fish diversity and coral cover.

Although research at both islands is currently being implemented by the Millennium Nucleus in Ecology and Sustainable Management of Oceanic Islands (ESMOI), extensive imagery of coral health is lacking. Photomosaics will allow us to collect and analyze more data than any other methodology used in contemporary marine science.

These coral reefs are experiencing anthropogenic pressure from overfishing, which puts their survival at risk. Therefore, the main goal of ESMOI is to provide the scientific basis needed to strengthen the strategies of sustainable management to conserve their biodiversity.

What is the significance of this project?

This project is significant because it uses digital photomosaics as a cost-effective, technologically advanced, method to collect fine-scale data to explore complex ecological phenomena. Currently, it is unknown how the benthic coral communities of Easter Island and Salas y Gómez are influenced by local physical oceanographic processes, such as wave energy, and how they may change in response to continued exploitation from fishing pressure. The health of many coral reefs around the world has degraded during the past few decades, mostly attributed to human-induced stressors. This project will allow us to choose specific coral reef sites that may be vulnerable to health degradation and implement marine protected areas and regulate fishing activities.

What are the goals of the project?

This project will enhance the conservation of the coral reef ecosystems of Easter Island and Salas y Gómez by utilizing adaptive management and raising socio-ecological consciousness. The main goals of this project include the implementation of a long-term monitoring program, the creation of a marine protected area, and the establishment of socio-ecological education and citizen science programs. The photomosaics produced by this research will prove instrumental in achieving these four goals by providing high resolution visual aides to assess coral reef health over time, thus allowing us to carefully plan and assess the effectiveness of marine reserves. Photomosaics will be used as educational tools to engage the local Rapa Nui, Chilean, and global societies in coral reef conservation.


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Modern advancements in digital video and camera technology over the past decade have made it possible to record large areas of underwater ecosystems. Presently, coral reef ecosystems around the world are experiencing drastic changes to their overall health statuses and community structures. Anthropogenic stresses such as overfishing and climate change are directly and indirectly causing mass mortalities of coral reef organisms, including drastic declines in coral cover. The GoPro HERO4 (Black edition) cameras are cost-efficient, technologically advanced, scientiifc instruments that will allow us to collect thousands of digital underwater landscape photos to create high-resolution maps of benthic coral reef environments, called photomosaics. The photomosaics will enable us to compare the same benthic imagery over time and test theories on how different levels of wave energy and overfishing affect coral community structure and health.

Meet the Team

James J. Herlan
James J. Herlan
Doctoral Student


Biology | Ecology, Evolutionary Biology, and Behavior The Graduate Center The City University of New York
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Naiti Morales
Naiti Morales
Erin Easton
Erin Easton
Carlos Gaymer
Carlos Gaymer

Team Bio

During my years as a professional scientist in academia and the federal government, I gained experience conducting fieldwork in coral reef ecosystems at six major locations in Florida and the Caribbean and acquired a superior level of training in scientific SCUBA diving. I have designed and conducted laboratory experiments that tested the effects certain variables such as light, sediments, and nutrients have on the survival of coral species and have presented my results to the scientific community at conferences and local universities. I am a co-author on seven peer-reviewed journal articles that focus on various sub-disciplines of coral reef ecology such as climate change, coral health and physiology, reef restoration, and numerous reef monitoring techniques that are used to identify phase shifts. In my spare time, I enjoy jazz music and surfing.

James J. Herlan

Research Website

Press and Media

  1. You can follow the research of ESMOI on the website: Ecology and Sustainable Management of Oceanic Islands
  2. You can read more about the research being conducted in the Easter Island Ecoregion here: Effects of isolation and fishing on the marine ecosystems of Easter Island and Salas y Gómez, Chile
  3. You can read more about using crowdfunding for scientific research here: Wheat et al., (2013)
  4. New publication about scientific crowfunding from PLOS ONE (Byrnes et al., 2014): To Crowdfund Research, Scientists Must Build an Audience for Their Work
  5. You can read more about photomosaics here: Underwater Landscape Mosaics for Coral Reef Mapping and Monitoring
  6. Lirman et al., (2007) Development and application of a video-mosaic survey technology to document the status of coral reef communities
  7. Lirman et al., (2010) Damage and recovery assessment of vessel grounding injuries on coral reef habitats by use of georeferenced landscape video mosaics
  8. Please explore examples of underwater landscape mosaics from Caribbean coral reefs. These were created by Dr. Art Gleason from the University of Miami. Cuba. Grecian Rocks, Florida. Marker 14, Florida.
  9. Please visit my website to learn more about my scientific career in coral reef ecology: unionave.net

Additional Information

Ecology and Sustainable Management of Oceanic Islands.

Moai on Easter Island.

Offshore islets of Motu Nui and Motu Iti. Easter Island.

Map of Easter Island and Salas y Gómez (Easter Island Ecoregion), from Friedlander et al., (2013).

Porites and Pocillopora coral. Hanga Roa Bay, Easter Island.

Porites coral. Hanga Roa Bay, Easter Island.

Macroalgae. Hanga Roa Bay, Easter Island.

Coral community. Hanga Roa Bay, Easter Island.

Porites andPocillopora coral. Hanga Roa Bay, Easter Island.

Project Backers

  • 27Backers
  • 102%Funded
  • $1,025Total Donations
  • $37.96Average Donation
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