The vibrant colors and flourishing ecosystems he knew were being replaced with brittle, white and brown structures — all devoid of life. Climate change, plus overfishing and pollution, had decimated corals and killed half the ocean’s reefs over a 30-year span. Paul had long been monitoring the increasingly critical issue of ocean health, seeking out experts who were tracking ocean warming and monitoring coral death, and this dive ignited a new sense of urgency within him. Paul knew he had to do something fast. Because even though coral reefs cover less than one percent of the ocean, nearly one billion people and a quarter of all marine life depends on them.
As he did when tackling other massive challenges, he began by first identifying what should exist, but didn’t yet. In this case, an accurate, comprehensive assessment of all the world’s coral reefs. Much like his other exploration projects, Paul was searching for ways to fill important data gaps so that data, made available freely, could illuminate the big picture and provide understanding that fueled action. In fact, prior to Paul’s involvement, more was known about the moon’s surface than was known about the location, structure, and integrity of earth’s reefs. That’s because the existing data was primarily created and mapped by scuba divers and light aircraft. So instead, he wondered, could reefs be mapped and monitored from space using new micro satellites?