World Oceans Day 2019 marks the official release of MERMAID Beta, the first free, online-offline platform to collect, analyze, and share field-based coral reef surveys, technology that will help scientists monitor a growing crisis in one of the world’s most diverse ecosystems.

Developed by the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and Sparkgeo, MERMAID (Marine Ecological Research Management AID) is designed to standardize the collection and management of underwater survey methods for coral reef fish and benthic communities, and coral bleaching. The platform is open-source, with all repositories available on GitHub:

Currently, multiple organizations are piloting MERMAID in field expeditions in Fiji, Indonesia and Madagascar, including WCS and WWF with NGO, university, and government partners. MERMAID already has over 40 projects collecting data and over 250 registered users.

Millions of people rely on coral reefs for subsistence and livelihoods. Coral reefs are threatened by human activities, with very few pristine reefs left. An estimated two thirds of coral reef fish have been lost compared to historical reefs, and the majority of reefs are missing more than half their coral reef fish biomass due to unsustainable fishing. Climate change and ocean heatwaves cause mass coral mortality and threaten 90 percent of the world’s coral reefs with degradation by 2050.

Reef fish and corals can recover with effective local management or rebound from bleaching events; some reefs are more resistant than others due to acclimated corals or environmental conditions. There is hope to safeguard intact and functional reefs into the coming decades with urgent and strategic management.

“Scientists around the world are collecting incredibly valuable information to track the condition of coral reefs,” said Dr. Emily Darling, Conservation Scientist with WCS’s Marine Conservation Program who leads the organization’s global coral reef and coastal fisheries monitoring program. “Until now, entering, cleaning, and analyzing this data has been a painstaking and time-consuming process. Using the latest open-source technologies and working offline in the field, MERMAID allows scientists to accelerate how we transform data into decisions that can help save coral reefs.”

“MERMAID is the first data platform to allow scientists to quickly enter, synthesize, and share underwater survey information in near real-time,” says Gabby Ahmadia, Director of Marine Conservation Science at WWF. “The application speeds up a process that used to take months. Coral reef surveyors can now have clean data before even stepping foot back on land.”

One advantage of the MERMAID platform is that it works offline and in remote field conditions. Users can set up projects to take offline, and then enter and access their data without an internet connection. When back online, MERMAID uploads their project’s data to the cloud, providing a safe and reliable backup system. Users can then export their cleaned datasets with automatically calculated information, such as reef fish biomass or taxonomic metadata.

The information collected in MERMAID will help manage the world’s coral reefs: by identifying priority locations for management and conservation, and helping track progress towards meeting global goals of effective coral reef management. In short, the application transforms how scientists and citizen scientists can collect coral reef monitoring data to inform decision-making from local to global scales. 

“With the release of MERMAID beta, data visualization and sharing is our next priority. We are calling on developers to help us implement a global dashboard of maps and summary figures,” added Darling. “There is still hope for the future of coral reefs, and technologies like MERMAID can help us track changes in nature and share success stories of conservation in our rapidly changing world.”

To access a guide on developing a dashboard for MERMAID, click here.

WCS’s work to develop MERMAID was supported by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and the Bloomberg Philanthropies ‘ Vibrant Oceans Initiative.

Bloomberg Philanthropies’ Vibrant Oceans Initiative is working around the world to advance evidence-based conservation practices and implement data-driven policies to protect our oceans and the 3 billion people that depend on them. Bloomberg’s Vibrant Oceans Initiative currently operates with partners in 10 countries – Australia, the Bahamas, Chile, Fiji, French Polynesia, Indonesia, the Philippines, Tanzania, Peru and the United States – to win science-based policies, protect priority coral reefs least vulnerable to climate change, and increase transparency through the adoption of national fishing data platforms. Since launching in 2014, Bloomberg Philanthropies has invested a total $139 million in the Vibrant Oceans Initiative.

The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation supports creative people, effective institutions, and influential networks building a more just, verdant, and peaceful world. MacArthur is placing a few big bets that truly significant progress is possible on some of the world’s most pressing social challenges, including over-incarceration, global climate change, nuclear risk, and significantly increasing capital for the social sector. In addition to the MacArthur Fellows Program, the Foundation continues its historic commitments to the role of journalism in a responsible and responsive democracy; the strength and vitality of our headquarters city, Chicago; and generating new knowledge about critical issues.