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Hope for Coral Reefs

June 25, 2014

kaufmanOur tropical coastlines and coral reefs are up against extreme challenges. Land conversion, oil and gas exploration, housing, overfishing, even tourist accommodation, are presenting dramatic change for the South Pacific and Caribbean Sea. Fortunately for corals, sponges, fish, and even humans, Dr. Les Kaufman of Boston University delivers hope.

During a WFU Biology Department seminar this spring, Kaufman discussed the ways fragile marine ecosystems can recover with sound oversight. From reversing the human-caused destruction of coral reefs in the South Pacific Ocean and Caribbean Sea, to managing freshwater fisheries in Cambodia, and understanding how to manage Brazil’s marine systems, Kaufmann provided a clear vision of the possibilities for ecosystem recovery.

The Small Unmanned Aerial Systems Lab (sUAS) at Wake Forest stands to play a critical role in this vision. Dr. Miles Silman, WFU professor of Biology and director of CEES, is collaborating with Dr. Kaufman to develop methods of monitoring coral reefs and mangrove swamps off the coast of Belize. Small aircraft, like drones, helicopters, and glider planes, can provide much-needed observation at Belize’s Lighthouse Reef Atoll. These aircraft have the capability of flying over the cayes (small islands) to record the vegetation cover of the mangrove swamps, tidal flow, maritime forests, and even record the health of coral patch reefs and the seasonal distribution of sea grass beds.

Kaufmann’s expertise in marine ecosystem management complements Wake Forest University’s collaborative efforts in protecting this unique marine ecosystem.