Scientists at California’s San Diego State University have done what has not been done before. They have measured the beauty of coral reefs, and their findings are surprising.
Aesthetic values of Carysfort reef. (A–E) are taken at the identical location on Carysfort reef, US Caribbean, over a time span of 40 years (photos taken by P Dustan). The aesthetic value calculated for each picture shows a significant degradation of aesthetic appearance during this period. The historic images from 1975 indicate that the aesthetic appearance of this Caribbean reef was comparable to present day pristine reefscapes as for example on Palmyra atoll in the Central Pacific (F, photo taken by J Smith).
In their study to assess the beauty of coral reefs, scientists at the university also assessed the health of coral reefs. The scientists, comprised of mathematicians, biologists and art historians built a tool that took computational measurements of the aesthetic appearance of coral reefs and showed that visual cues that were created with random underwater photos of coral reefs were able to assess not only the beauty of the reefs, but the health of the reefs as well.
They looked at 109 visual features including size, color and distribution of discernable objects, texture and color intensity and then created a computer program to crunch the numbers assessing the features in the images to anaylze random photographs of coral reefs from nine areas in the Caribbean and central Pacific. The program then created a beauty score for each reef ecosystem analyzed.
What they found was the more beautiful coral reefs, those with brighter colors, indicated more diversity of fauna and flora and a healthy coral reef. They also noted a marked degradation of the Craysfort reef in the Caribbean running photographs taken in 1975, 1985, 1995, 2004, and 2014 through the computational measurement tool.
The complete paper can be read on the Peer J website.