Protecting the world’s coral reefs through mapping

Editors Note: Today’s guest author is Katie Reytar, a Research Associate for the World Resources Institute. WRI was the recipient of a Google Earth Outreach Developer Grant, funded through the Google Inc. Charitable Giving Fund at the Tides Foundation. We’re excited to help them share and visualize the results of years of research about the state of the world’s reefs.

Since 1998, the World Resources Institute (WRI) has been using GIS (Geographic Information System) models to develop map-based assessments of threats to the world’s coral reefs. Reefs at Risk Revisited, released in February 2011, is the latest assessment in the series and is based on a nearly three-year study that produced the most highly-detailed global maps of coral reef threats to date. The study analyzed and mapped threats to coral reefs from local human activities such as coastal development, unsustainable fishing, and marine and land-based pollution, as well as climate-related threats caused by increasing levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

While the Reefs at Risk Revisited report, maps and data sets are the core components of our work, we found ourselves still searching for a compelling way to convey our findings on these dynamic yet fragile reef ecosystems. We also wanted to generate greater awareness of the unique characteristics of reef habitats across different geographies and the irreplaceable cultural and life-sustaining services that reefs provide to people all over the world. All of these elements are best communicated when you can see them for yourself, which is why we created a virtual tour of these reefs around the world with our Google Earth Outreach Developer Grant.

Watch a virtual tour of the most at-risk reefs in the world courtesy of the World Resources Institute.

In the tour, the Reefs at Risk Revisited maps come alive on Google Earth with photos and underwater video from each of the major coral reef regions of the world: the Caribbean, Middle East, Indian Ocean, Southeast Asia, Australia, and Pacific, as well as a global-level introduction and conclusion. The journey to each region provides a brief overview of the biodiversity of reef ecosystems, their importance to people and local economies, and the types and magnitudes of threats that reefs face, illustrated with footage of both healthy and damaged reefs.

You’ll also experience first hand these fantastically dynamic and productive ecosystems that extend across about 250,000 sq km (96,500 sq miles) of the tropical ocean. Even though this area represents less than 0.1% of the global ocean, reefs are home to as many as 25% of all known marine species. In the tropics, coral reefs are not only a critical habitat for marine species, but they also play an essential role in the lives of millions of people who live near them: they provide food and income from fisheries, revenue from tourism, and protection for coastal communities from storm surges.

Among the other products of the Reefs at Risk Revisited project are global maps of coral reefs rated according to level of threat in the present, 2030, and 2050. These maps are available as downloadable KML files on the WRI website for viewing on Google Earth, and also as part of an online map developed using Google Fusion Tables. With these interactive maps you can zoom in to your favorite reef to explore it more closely in your own self-guided tour.

Explore Reefs at Risk Revisited in Google Earth.

We hope that you enjoy our tour and maps, and that you are able to visit a coral reef to learn more about these important and unique ecosystems. With improved understanding, we can manage and protect these resources so that we can all enjoy them and benefit from them for generations to come.

The University of Central Florida 3D

As you certainly have seen by now, we love to show off awesome 3D buildings that our readers create. Recently we’ve shown you items such as the Evansville Central Library, the Costa Concordia and the Android statues at Google headquarters.

Today’s models come from Chris Sardinas at CS3Design. They’ve been working on modeling the campus of the University of Central Florida and they’re doing an amazing job with it.

One great example is the Health and Public Affairs Building, seen below. You can download it from the Google 3D Warehouse here.


Another excellent building is Colbourn Hall. This model already exists in Google Earth, though it’s fairly crude as you can see here:


The new model from CS3Design looks far better!


Many of their buildings are not yet in the default 3D layer in Google Earth, so they’ve put together a Warehouse collection to make it easy to find all of them.

The Place Based Bubble Ads

Should every place & business that exists in our everyday life be used to sell against? Should that specific, very real entity with its history of sentiment and purpose be leveraged to shill for something without their knowledge? And if so what is appropriate to sell against that place? I asked myself those questions as I explored some of the “bubble ads” that Google was showing in the info bubble for these Places.

When Google Adwords are shown against a full page of search results based on relevancy and various matching type, some of the quirks of the system are not obvious. However when an algo tries to position one ad against a single Place that exists in reality the limits of an algo based placement become more obvious. The lack of upfront human curation creates unpredictiable and oftimes odd outcomes. The results can easily pass from the mundane into tasteless very quickly.

The issue certainly affects small business as they find their competitors  both local and national advertising against their good name. In this slide show you will see Google leveraging David Mihm and Andrew Shotland‘s reputation to highlight their own Adwords product as an alternative to either’s service (yea right).

But that annoyance felt by an SMB at Google’s ham handed selling pales when you see Google let someone selling against icons of American culture. A private, for profit tour positioned against the Statue of Liberty seems odd but one positioned against the 9/11 memorial seems downright macabre.

There is humor as well as you see the Obama campaign selling against the Whitehouse with a desire to live there another 4 years. The Yellowpages selling against a church certainly strikes an odd note. But that same humor turns black when you see abortion ads positioned against a Women’s Homeless Shelter or Health Clinic.

Obviously when the level of granularity gets down to the local business or place the foibles of this sort of advertising becomes painfully obvious. It reminds us all that we now live in a culture where every thing is for sale and every white space is ripe for an ad placement. Google’s info bubble ads that are now cluttering Google Maps give Maps the feel of those “park benches” that sit at smogged covered street corners with ads on their backs and facing into traffic. These effectively become the grafiti of our virtual world only they  are not painted by rebel outsiders and they are paid for with real dollars. The ads manage to remind us that all too often that the value of humanity has been reduced to the value of the individuals’ “eyeballs” and their willingness to read the message.

Google has taken a technology that not that long ago reminded us of the wonder of online possibilities and defaced it in a way that has smacks of the billboards and signs that all too often covers the walls of public spaces and bombard our senses with commercial messaging at every turn. The only thing missing from Maps to complete its drive to mirror reality are the whiffs of the urine that all too often cover these same walls. Although I don’t doubt that Google would ad scents if there was a way to monetize them.

Obviously not all of you agree with my disdain for Google’s new efforts. But all of you can find the humor and spot the tasteless gaffs of this advertising method. If you find a particularly ironic, distasteful or inappropriate “Bubble Ad” kindly send along a screenshot for my “Rogues Gallery of Bad Bubble Ads”.

Click to view the slide show: