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Mapping coral reefs at reef to reef-system scales, 10s–1000s km2, using object-based image analysis

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Coral reef maps at various spatial scales and extents are needed for mapping, monitoring, modelling, and management of these environments. High spatial resolution satellite imagery, pixel <10 m, integrated with field survey data and processed with various mapping approaches, can provide these maps. These approaches have been accurately applied to single reefs (10–100 km2), covering one high spatial resolution scene from which a single thematic layer (e.g. benthic community) is mapped. This article demonstrates how a hierarchical mapping approach can be applied to coral reefs from individual reef to reef-system scales (10–1000 km2) using object-based image classification of high spatial resolution images guided by ecological and geomorphological principles. The approach is demonstrated for three individual reefs (10–35 km2) in Australia, Fiji, and Palau; and for three complex reef systems (300–600 km2) one in the Solomon Islands and two in Fiji. Archived high spatial resolution images were pre-processed and mosaics were created for the reef systems. Georeferenced benthic photo transect surveys were used to acquire cover information. Field and image data were integrated using an object-based image analysis approach that resulted in a hierarchically structured classification. Objects were assigned class labels based on the dominant benthic cover type, or location-relevant ecological and geomorphological principles, or a combination thereof. This generated a hierarchical sequence of reef maps with an increasing complexity in benthic thematic information that included: ‘reef’, ‘reef type’, ‘geomorphic zone’, and ‘benthic community’. The overall accuracy of the ‘geomorphic zone’ classification for each of the six study sites was 76–82% using 6–10 mapping categories. For ‘benthic community’ classification, the overall accuracy was 52–75% with individual reefs having 14–17 categories and reef systems 20–30 categories. We show that an object-based classification of high spatial resolution imagery, guided by field data and ecological and geomorphological principles, can produce consistent, accurate benthic maps at four hierarchical spatial scales for coral reefs of various sizes and complexities.
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Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Biophysical Remote Sensing Group, School of Geography, Planning and Environmental Management, University of Queensland, Brisbane, Australia 2: Wildlife Conservation Society, Suva, Fiji 3: Institute of Applied Science, University of South Pacific, Suva, Fiji 4: School of Civil Engineering, University of Queensland, Brisbane, Australia

Publication date: September 20, 2013

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