The Digital Coral Reef Project

Principal Investigator: John W. McManus, PhD.
Dates: January 1, 2014 to December 31, 2020
Funding Sources: None currently, but the project proceeds slowly forward.

Coral reefs protect coastlines and provide food and livelihoods to hundreds of millions of low-income people in more than 100 nations and island states. The average coral reef has suffered losses in vitality due to a myriad of anthropogenic impacts. Climate change has added stresses such as coral bleaching and acidification. There is currently widespread concern that many coral reefs which currently protect coastlines from erosion and inundation may not be able to keep up with rising sea levels. This concern is so great that some countries are currently making plans to evacuate reef-protected coastlines, and to abandon entire island countries such as the Maldives and Kiribati.

Strangely, there is currently no compelling scientific evidence that most wave breaking reef crests cannot keep up with projected rates of sea level rise. The issue is complex, and a proper understanding requires the integration of a very wide range of information relevant to the processes of reef building, and erosion. This is best done with the assistance of software tools including computer-intensive models. While some previous models have provided useful insights into this issue, all have been severely limited in terms of information integration.

This project focusses on the development of empirically-based computer models and other software tools designed to both assist in current-day coral reef management and to forecast future scenarios under the long-term impacts of climate change. The initial output will be a program, CoralCalc, designed to convert simple field measurements of coral colonies to estimates of their surface area, volume, calcium carbonate content, and provision of refuge volumes for fish. One of several intermediate products will be DigiReef, a user-friendly high-resolution coral reef patch modelling system, aimed at both determining mitigation requirements for damaging reefs and at facilitating climate change analyses. This will use size-frequencies of coral genera-form combinations and other information to forecast the potential outcomes of disturbances and stresses on coral communities. One major end product will be FlexiReef, an interdisciplinary, nested multi-scale, flexible modelling system for both understanding how particular reefs attained their current geomorphologies, and for forecasting their futures under projected impacts of human activities in conjunction with the impacts of climate change.

All software will be fully open-source and distributed freely. Initially, the software is anticipated to be distributed via ResearchGate at