Surf scientists conduct 3D reef research on epic surf break
With more than 80% of the world’s oceans unexplored, untouched and invisible to humans, researchers know more about the surface of Mars than the ocean. A university of Hawaii in Hilo, the professor is helping fill that knowledge gap by leading a team of scientists to 3D map the best surf spots on the planet to better protect reefs around the world.
Professors John HR Burns (uh Hilo), Haunani Kane (Arizona State University) and Cliff Kapono (Arizona State University) recently mapped Fiji’s Kurukuru Mailani Reef, also known as Cloudbreak, home to some of the biggest and best waves in the world. The team takes high-resolution images of the reef and uses a technique called photogrammetry to create 3D reconstructions that can be studied to help better understand reef systems.
“These models will help us understand the composition, characteristics and ecology of the reef and these waves which will help us protect them from disturbances such as sea level rise,” said Burns, associate professor. of marine science.
The researchers are experienced surfers and base their work on the Multi-Scale Environmental Graphical Analysis (MEGA) Lab in Hilo. The MEGA Lab specializes in inventing new methods to study coral health and reef formation that influence wave shape and speed around the world. The non-profit organization is a global consortium of scientists, athletes and artists working together to create innovative solutions to protect the ocean.
uh students and graduates Kailey Pascoe (MS, uh Hi, ASU PhD), Crispin Nakoa (MS, uh Hi, ASU PhD), Atsuko Fukunaga (MS, uh Mānoa) analyze data collected in Fiji and construct high-definition 3D reconstructions in the MEGA Lab.
“The 3D maps give us that framework, basically a baseline of the whole system and its structure, then we work out which specific corals support different types of fish and finally we can dissect which elements of the reef give us food and resources. .that we depend on as humans,” Burns said.
A project is born
The 3D reef mapping project born from the MEGA Lab is a collaboration between the Hawaii Insular laboratory, REEF surf clothing brand and Surfline, a surf forecast and news site. The project was first launched in 2021 on the legendary surf break Banzai Pipeline on Oʻahuof the North Shore. Surf scientists made several trips to the North Shore to photograph the famous surf spot known for its jagged, sharp reef.
“Many funding agencies may view this type of travel as just a game, but we’re doing real science here,” Kapono said.
The team did not reveal where their next reef research will take place, but they do mention researching possible locations in the South Pacific and aim to include local communities in the research.
“It’s important to remember that we are visitors to these places and learning from the indigenous people before imposing our tools on the community,” Kane said.
Learn more about the MEGA Lab
This fall, MEGA Lab celebrated the grand opening of its new outreach site at the Mokupāpapa Discovery Center in Hilo. The lab is open to the public and provides a space for visitors of all ages to learn about and participate in areas of research related to marine science.
“We really want to create an engaging place for people to feel like they can be a part of science. For a while, science hasn’t been the most welcoming environment. It can be somewhat stiff and sterile. We just wanted to flip that script and show students that you can have fun. You can chase your passions. You can be yourself,” Burns said.
For more information, visit the MEGA Lab website.