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The world's coral reefs are under threat from climate change, overfishing and disease. But, until now, measuring the damage has required laborious on-the-spot surveys.

A new method of distinguishing live from dead corals should make it easier to gauge the health of reef ecosystems. Coral mapping using an airborne spectrographic imager over reefs in Rangiroa Atoll, French Polynesia, gave results comparable to those made on the ground, showing that aerial mapping can give a good estimate of the cover of live coral.

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Reference: Nature 413, 36 (2001)