What went into the 2022 geomorphic and benthic map update?

December 12, 2022Chris Roelfsema, Mitch Lyons, Kathryn Markey, Chantel Say, and Brianna Bambic

In April 2022, the Allen Coral Atlas began updating the global habitat maps based on user feedback and ongoing research. In this blog we will provide examples of why the improvements were made, and a summary of the updates.

What do the new map updates mean?

The changes to the updated geomorphic and benthic maps vary. At the regional scale, the implications are generally minor (i.e. deep water, and artificial artifacts were removed). However, at the local scale, updates to the habitat maps may be more impactful. We advise managers, policymakers, and any other Atlas user to download the most recent habitat map version, 2022, available now. The updated maps feature more accurate data, here’s why….

Why did we update?

Improvements were based on: ongoing research improvements by the Atlas Mapping team and integration of valuable feedback. The feedback was received through three avenues: 

1) 150+ Atlas users sent feedback through email (feedback@allencoralatlas.org) or face-to-face meetings that identified misclassifications.

Local experts meet with the Atlas' habitat mapping team to provide feedback

2) Over 90 local experts gave feedback, and were then directly approached to review the maps for their local reefs. The experts were asked to identify and provide the location of the misclassifications using a GIS environment, www.SeaSketch.org, a program designed to enable participatory marine spatial planning. 

3) Countless hours from our in-house Atlas team members, who identified misclassifications. The various identified misclassifications were grouped and reviewed by the mapping team and potential solutions were developed and applied into the mapping process.

Our research was ongoing and the mapping process improved from the first region, Southwest Pacific, which was published in early 2019 to the last region, released in September 2021.

What types of updates were made?

The updates included two types of innovations:


An innovative approach applied to all 30 mapping regions. This process allowed for improvements without rerunning the whole mapping sequence which required less resources.


Feedback and innovations applied to limited (10) mapping regions. This process required targeted expert local feedback, thus required more resources and rerunning of whole mapping sequence was required..

The updates include internal software and external map improvements.

Example of removal of deep and turbid water artifacts that were previously classified as a reef class, where the left image depicts our 2021 version and the right image depicts our 2022 version. Red circles indicates specific examples.

See our technical documentation for more examples of map improvements.