Satellite Mapping of the Great Barrier Reef

Rebecca Maxwell


The Great Barrier Reef, located off the coast of Australia, is one of the Earth’s most significant environments. It supports an incredible amount of biodiversity and is home to several endangered species while covering more than 344,000 square kilometers. The Great Barrier Reef is also one of the most vulnerable ecosystems on the planet. It is facing threats of all kinds from climate change, pollution, overfishing, and even swarms of crown-of-thorn starfish that damage the coral. Nevertheless, a new mapping project using remote sensing is hoping to do its part to help analyze threats to the Reef.

In the past, the Great Barrier Reef has been difficult to map using traditional methods because of its inaccessibility and shallow waters.  Up until recently, more than half the reef area had not been mapped.  However, these barriers were able to overcome by the German aquatic remote sensing company called EOMAP. The company combined satellite imagery with ocean floor topography data and tide measurements to produce a 3D, high-resolution map of the complete Great Barrier Reef, covering 350,000 square kilometers (roughly 135.14 square miles) of the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area and Torres Strait. The advantage of using satellite imagery was that the map has a resolution of thirty meters. The high resolution bathymetry map is available for purchase through the company’s website while a bathymetry with a 500 meter resolution is available for free download.

The hope is that this mapping project, the largest of its kind in Australia, can help scientists and researchers evaluate the problems that are affecting the Great Barrier Reef on a large scale. For example, the maps could help monitor water quality and assist in predicting the impact of rising sea levels and frequent tropical cyclones due to climate change. The project could help scientists measure the effects of both humans and natural phenomena on the reef including the movement of crown-of-thorn starfish swarms. Additionally, the maps could aid in identifying areas of the reef that are in need of more data collection. The mapping project is a critical step towards better managing and protecting the Great Barrier Reef.

The next phase by EOMAP is great a very high resolution map of the Great Barrier Reef which would be mapped at 2 meters resolution using DigitalGlobe’s Worldview-2 satellite.  Sample data, including 2m resolution bathymetry data can be download from EOMAP’s sample data section.

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Very high resolution (2m) bathymetry map of the Wreck Reef in the south Coral Sea Islands.  The Wreck Reef got its name from the sinking of colonial ships.
Very high resolution (2m) bathymetry map of the Wreck Reef in the south Coral Sea Islands. The Wreck Reef got its name from the sinking of colonial ships.


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About the author
Rebecca Maxwell
Rebecca Maxwell is a freelance writer who loves to write about a variety of subjects. She holds a B.A. in History from Boise State University. Rebecca has also been a contributing writer on