A sustainable museum collection of historical imagery for coral reef baselines

Robert Yarlett, Francoise Cabada-Blanco, Judith Lang, Kenneth Johnson*

*Corresponding author for this work

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Understanding ecological shifts documented on coral reefs over recent decades (Hoegh-Guldberg 2014) requires reconstruction of historical baselines. Underwater photographs of known reef sites are especially valuable sources of historical data (Fig. 1). As part of a new initiative to create a sustainable, open-access repository of historical reef imagery and associated data, a collection of over one thousand images made by Eileen Graham in the mid-1960s near Discovery Bay Jamaica is available for download (Johnson et al. 2016). They record the condition of reefs prior to their decline in the 1980s and before well-established monitoring surveys in the Caribbean. Images range from detailed close-ups to reefscapes and are a potentially rich source of ecological data including benthic community composition, habitat complexity, and disease presence. Ecological change on coral reefs shows great variability at local scales, so site-specific data may not suffice to inform decision-makers; thus, we aim to establish a network of image repositories from reefs worldwide to help define local baselines. We encourage reef scientists, underwater photographers, and recreational divers with well-organized photographic records to collaborate and share their images as part of this initiative, and urge their use for research, conservation planning, and simply as a visual reference of the changes undergone by coral reefs.
Original languageEnglish
Article number527
JournalCoral Reefs
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 5 Mar 2016
Externally publishedYes


  • Caribbean
  • coral reefs
  • digital collections


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