Dr. Juan Torres-Perez Will Work with Citizen Scientists to Study the Bleaching of Coral Reefs Off of Puerto Rico

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Dr. Juan Torres-Perez will lead a joint effort by BAER Institute, NASA, researchers from the University of Puerto Rico, and citizen scientists to study the bleaching of coral reefs off the coast of Puerto Rico.  Globally, coral reefs have been experiencing stress caused by climate change-related factors (e.g., rising sea level and sea water temperatures, and ocean acidification).  As recurrences of extreme sea water thermal events increase (and coral bleaching events along with them), the need for continuous monitoring of coral reefs has become more evident.

NASA has been using a number of different sensors (Landsat-8 (OLI), Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) and Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS)) imagery for water quality assessment in the waters off Puerto Rico.   Dr. Torres-Perez’s new project entitled “Coral Bleaching Assessment through remote Sensing and Integrated Citizen Science (CoralBASICS) seeks to validate this NASA data by training citizen scientists to collect information related to the state of coral reefs using different methodologies, monitoring of coral bleaching events, and collecting of water quality data in situ and from boats.  The first part of the project will focus on the waters off the southwest coast of Puerto Rico, an area where scientists have been collecting data for decades.  In later phases, sites on the north, west, and northeast coasts of the island will be studied.  Dr. Torres-Perez expects to engage and strictly supervise personnel from a minimum of 14 island dive shops in data collection and training during both phases of the project.

NASA is funding this project through its Citizen Science for Earth Systems Program, whose goal is to directly support citizen science activities that advance the understanding of Earth as a system.


left: Study sites in La Parguera and Guánica (southwest PR). The orange star indicates a deep (60ft depth) site).

center: Bleached colony of staghorn coral (Acropora cervicornis), a threatened coral species, in La Parguera (southwest PR).

right: Dr. Torres-Pérez (4th from left to right) accompanied by some of the project instructors and graduate students from the University of PR.