NASA claims that it may be able to accurately monitor the health of coral reefs using sensors attached to planes or satellites in the future.
Liane Guild, scientist at NASA's Ames Research Centre in California says: "Scientists can use coral health as a sensitive indicator of the health of the marine environment. We're looking into how you could remotely detect coral reef health using aircraft with visible light sensors. First we have to look at the coral close up, underwater, to see what spectral reflectance the sensor picks up from diseased, stressed and healthy coral."
Working with a team of scientists from the Universities of Miami, Puerto Rico and South Florida, the NASA scientists measured light reflectance levels on Acropora palmata, Elkhorn coral, outcrops using a spectroradiometer - a device which measures UV, visible and infrared light.
Guild plans to fly "hyperspectral instruments" containing light detectors over reefs to bounce back data from the reef to the scientists. Scientists elsewhere are developing computer models which interpret the data.