USC researcher amazed at ‘Super Coral’ reef trip

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USC researcher amazed at ‘Super Coral’ reef trip

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Dr Javier Leon flying a drone on the bow of the MV Flying Fish off the coast of far north Queensland

7 December 2017

A USC academic who specialises in using drones to map physical geography over land and sea is excited by his research observations after returning from a flagship 21-day expedition, ‘GBR Legacy Search for the Super Corals’.

Senior Lecturer Dr Javier Leon, who coordinates USC’s Bachelor of Environmental Science, was delighted to join the Great Barrier Reef (GBR) Legacy expedition team on a vessel in the remote far north coastal waters of Australia.

Dr Leon, who is now at Port Douglas, will be among team members outlining their findings at a public symposium tomorrow, Friday 8 December, from 7pm to 9pm at Hemmingway’s Brewery at the Reef Marina in Port Douglas.

GBR Legacy was founded by scientists, tourism operators, media professionals and educators to help ensure the long-term survival of the Great Barrier Reef and coral reefs worldwide.

The expedition, sponsored by crowd-funding, small business, the Australian band Midnight Oil and the Northern Escape Collection, focused on identifying species of coral that were least prone to bleaching. On board was a marine biologist known as the ‘Godfather of Coral’, Dr Charlie Veron.

Dr Leon said he would tomorrow discuss his mapping of 13 inshore and outer reef sites, using drones, satellite imagery and underwater 3D and habitat surveying techniques.

“The research was an eye opener as we faced large extents of bleached coral but also many pockets of very healthy coral and everything from whales and dolphins to turtles and crocodiles,” said Dr Leon, whose fieldwork included flying a drone in the air and underwater mapping while snorkelling.

“We discovered a new site that had the most diversity of Acropora corals ever seen, including a new species of branching coral.

“There was evidence of baby corals growing from the latest bleaching event, which really gave people hope that the Reef is still alive,” he said.

Dr Leon will return to USC at Sippy Downs next week to start analysing 39,000 drone images and 117,000 underwater photos.

His research paper will be titled, ‘Multiscale coral reef mapping: the project aims to semi-automatically classify and map coral growth form and bleaching conditions using very high resolution imagery derived from drones and underwater imagery’.

— Julie Schomberg

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