Estimating rates of coral carbonate production from aerial and archive imagery by applying colony scale conversion metrics

Emily Husband*, Chris T. Perry, Ines D. Lange

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Citations (Scopus)
33 Downloads (Pure)


Recent interest in assessing coral reef functions has raised questions about how carbonate production rates have altered over the past few decades of ecological change. At the same time, there is growing interest in quantifying carbonate production on larger reef-scales. Resolving these issues is challenging because carbonate production estimates require three-dimensional survey data, which are typically collected in-situ over small spatial scales. In contrast, data that can be extracted from archive photograph or video imagery and high-resolution aerial imagery are generally planar. To address this disconnect, we collected data on the relationship between linear planar and 3D contour lengths of 62 common Indo-Pacific hard coral genera-morphotypes to establish appropriate conversion metrics (i.e. coral class rugosity values, hereafter termed R coral). These conversion values allow planar colony dimensions to be converted to estimates of 3D colony contour length, which can be employed within existing census budget methodologies like ReefBudget to estimate coral carbonate production (G, in kg CaCO 3 m −2 yr −1). We tested this approach by comparing in-situ carbonate production data collected using the ReefBudget methodology against estimates derived from converted colony length data from video imagery. The data show a high level of consistency with an error of ~ 10%. We then demonstrate potential applications of the conversion metrics in two examples, the first using time-series (2006 to 2018) photo-quadrat imagery from Moorea, and the second using high-resolution drone imagery across different reef flat habitats from the Maldives. Whilst some degree of error must necessarily be accepted with such conversion techniques, the approach presented here offers exciting potential to calculate coral carbonate production: (1) from historical imagery to constrain past coral carbonate production rates; (2) from high quality aerial imagery for spatial up-scaling exercises; and (3) for use in rapid photograph or video-based assessments along reef systems where detailed surveys are not possible.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1199-1209
Number of pages11
JournalCoral Reefs
Issue number4
Early online date14 Apr 2022
Publication statusPublished - 1 Aug 2022


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