Global analysis of benthic complexity in shallow coral reefs

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


Three-dimensional shallow benthic complexity (also known as benthic rugosity) reflects the physical conditions of shallow coral reefs environments and can be used to estimate fish biomass and coral cover on reefs. Spatially explicit data on benthic complexity could offer critical information for coral reef conservation and management. However, benthic complexity has not yet been mapped at a global scale. We mapped global shallow water benthic complexity to 20 m depth at a spatial resolution of 10 m using 22 000 Sentinel-2 satellite images and a globally applicable underwater algorithm. We quantified geographic variation of benthic complexity in shallow coral reef areas from individual reef to ocean basin scales. We found that shallow benthic complexity is unevenly distributed worldwide, with high benthic complexity regions found in areas known to have high levels of benthic biodiversity such as the Coral Triangle, Coral Sea, and Great Barrier Reef. Yet nearly 60% of detected coral reef regions (size = 61 156 km2) are not listed as protected under current marine protected plans. These unprotected regions include substantial reef areas of high benthic complexity that may harbor high levels of biodiversity. Our global coral reef benthic complexity map supports plans to improve marine protected areas, reef conservation, and management.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number024038
JournalEnvironmental Research Letters
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 1 2023


  • benthic complexity
  • coral reef
  • fish biomass
  • marine protected area
  • reef structure

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Renewable Energy, Sustainability and the Environment
  • General Environmental Science
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


Dive into the research topics of 'Global analysis of benthic complexity in shallow coral reefs'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this