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To honor World Oceans Day , we would like to feature the great work being done by the University of Queensland, a Trimble Innovation Program (TIP) partner. Researchers at the Remote Sensing Research Centre, School of Earth & Environmental Sciences at UQ continue to drive revolutionary mapping techniques that will produce the world’s first-ever topographic map of the Great Barrier Reef’s (GBR) 2,900 individual reefs… and they are doing it with the Trimble eCognition software. This series of projects was recently highlighted in Apogeo Spatial – “Hope for the Great Barrier Reef – Rules Applied to Mapping Benthic Communities“.

Dr. Chris Roelfsema is leading the project team at UQ and admitted to us that he is “fulfilling a 20-year-long vision” through combining the tools to create a “semi-automated to mapping the geomorphology of shallow GBR reefs and their benthic communities over a large scale”.

Geomorphic & benthic maps of Cairns section og GBR

The mapping solution that the team has developed utilizes  the key strengths of eCognition, starting with data fusion, allowing a seamless combination of satellite images with ancillary water data (raster + vector). Add the “sophistication of intelligent OBIA tools”, the ability to combine analysis methods such as knowledge-based classification with state-of-the-art machine learning/ deep learning and the continuous advancement in computing power and you have the fixings for accuracy, standardization and transferability. These are key characteristics when considering the complex and extensive environment of the GBR.

The path to success has taken time, Roelfsema first began experimenting with Trimble eCognition in 2007. In 2016, he then led a pilot project to generate geomorphic zonation and benthic composition maps of 20 reefs in the southernmost section of the GBR. The success of the pilot study resulted in funding to expand the project across 237 reefs, covering a 3,000 sq-km area in the Cairns/Cooktown reef group and eCognition was up to the task, taking only 45 minutes to complete the analysis. “That’s mind blowing,” says Roelfsema. “We have never been able to map so many reefs with such little field data to that level of detail. And in such little time”.

I had a chance to catch up with the team at UQ shortly after they completed the Cairns/Cooktown project and we discussed their work in our webinar “Coral Reef & Seagrass Habitat Mapping using Object Based Analysis:

Ultimately, this work has led to the GBR Habitat Mapping Project (GBRHMP), a 3-year initiative aiming to create the first-ever wall-to-wall “map of the GBR that details the reef’s geomorphology, its benthic habitats and specific coral types”. The Project is already bearing fruit, last October maps of the GBR’s geomorphology, its slopes, plateaus and ridges along each individual reef were generated and officials at the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA) “loved it”. In 2020, the team will refine the map to classify the GBR’S benthic communities and in 2021 they plan to integrate additional layers on coral type.

This map has been a dream come true… We’re providing more detail than scientists have ever had before. Now they’ll be able to make spatial, ecological and biophysical connections that they haven’t been able to before. And, it’s only going to get better.

Dr. Chris Roelfsema – University of Queensland

And this is why I do what I do – my fascination of maps to help understand the world…

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