Lonely Planet Writer

New technology captures close-ups of coral as you've never seen it before

A group of scientists have used new technology to capture amazing coral close-ups, revealing the fascinating sea life as you’ve never seen it before.

 

This video is the result of the new Benthic Underwater Microscope, the very first imaging system to allow observations of natural sea environments at nearly micrometre resolutions. While coral reefs can be seen from space, the organisms that make them are microscopic. Capturing clear imagery underwater can be a huge challenge due to the ever-changing nature of the ocean and its currents. It’s also impossible to accurately recreate sea conditions in a lab, making it tough to study marine ecosystems like coral reefs and kelp forests.

Images of a live coral captured with the new technology.
Images of a live coral captured with the new technology. Image by Nature Communications

To fix this issue, a group of researchers decided to create a new microscope to accurately observe the sea life in its natural habitat. The result is an ability to capture marine processes like coral bleaching and algae colonisation at a scale previously unimaginable. The scientists even captured two different coral species fighting. The resulting video and images are a stunning look at some of the sea’s most spectacular environments in a detail never seen before. The researchers documented the process in a publication called Nature Communications.

Comparison between lab images (A-C) and images of the coral in their natural habitat (D-F)
Comparison between lab images (A-C) and images of the coral in their natural habitat (D-F) Image by Nature Communications

Coral reefs are under threat all over the world and better understanding of processes like coral bleaching could help researchers find new ways to protect them. The warmer waters caused by climate change lead to the corals expelling their algae, making them far more vulnerable. The strongest El Niño of the past 20 years ended in May this year, triggering the third worldwide bleaching event, affecting approximately 38% of the planet’s entire coral.

Gorgonian coral
Gorgonian coral Image by plovets/Getty Images