Coral reefs are complex, biologically diverse and highly valued ecosystems that are under increasing threat from both natural and human-induced disturbances. Timely ecosystem observations about the condition of coral reefs on a range of temporal and spatial scales are essential to assist policy makers and resource managers to address the challenges of their management and conservation, as well as inform scientists who study these ecosystems. Coral reef observation systems can provide integrated biological, physical and chemical information, yet they require sophisticated instrumentation that can be deployed on the reef as well as appropriate cyberinfrastructure tools to facilitate data access and manage the flow of information. These systems must be robust and easy to deploy and maintain. MCR investigators have been working with an international group of scientists to deploy automated sensors to record environmental data in coral reefs in Moorea, Australia, Taiwan and Thailand, and to use coral reef sites as test beds for the development of new sensor technologies. The group forms the Coral Reef Environmental Observatory network (CREON), sharing expertise on deployment of environmental sensor networks.
One of the challenges in the study of reef ecosystems is obtaining environmental data rapidly enough to enable management and/or scientific responses to events that affect the reef ecosystem. Ideally, information would be available in real time. The MCR LTER site in Moorea has been an active test bed for the development of the cyberinfrastructure for real-time sensor networks. One particular focus has been in the development of open source software tools for managing real-time data from a variety of oceanographic sensors (that measure, for example, temperature, currents, salinity, etc.). These tools enable information from diverse oceanographic instruments to be transported, managed and visualized (as graphs or other outputs) in real time. Such information is of great interest to MCR investigators because it allows immediate detection of potentially critical disturbance events (e.g., elevated temperature that could result in coral bleaching), as well as short-term temporal variation in reef processes (e.g., variation in water chemistry that could affect growth of corals).