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Tidal flats of the Yellow Sea: implications from the assessment

Tidal flats of the Yellow Sea: implications from the assessment
Between about 2013 and 2018, I worked primarily on this project to map tidal mudflats for the entire world. We found that there was no data for tidal flat mudflats in our Yellow Sea assessment of the Red List of Ecosystems. And it kind of opened the door to discover that there was actually no data for that ecosystem anywhere on earth. So I led a project which was aimed at trying to produce the first global map of mudflats for the world. I had it funded by Google. And we were able to run some really advanced remote sensing models on Google’s computing infrastructure that allowed us to map tidal flats on the global scale at 30 metres.
The map itself consisted of about 30 billion statistical classifications. And if I had started that sort of project on my laptop, I could expect to come home in about 100 year’s time. And the model would be finished. Now, because we were supported by Google, we were able to adapt our remote sensing models to their computing environment, run it on 22,000 computers at once, and produce a map like that for about– in about 40 days on their computers. The neat thing about the global mud flat map is that it’s modelled similar to the deforestation maps that are produced for tropical forests. We wanted to produce a consistent time series of this ecosystem, not only the map of the ecosystem.
And the reason we wanted to do that was to be able to assess criterion A of the Red List of Ecosystems. So the final mudflat map is actually 11 maps that map the different distributions of tidal mudflats across a 30 year period. And to really enable uptake of the data set and really support people that are studying tidal flat ecosystems, we made the data completely available. It’s fully free. The code that we ran the models is free as well. All of that can be found on the website, which is the Intertidal Change Explorer.

Where to next for tidal flats worldwide?

Watch Nicholas Murray describe how the lack of data for the Yellow Sea inspired him to develop the data needed to assess tidal flat ecosystems world-wide. The result was the intertidal app, where you can explore how intertidal ecosystems have changed near you.

Nick’s research in the Yellow Sea contributed to our understanding of how these ecosystems are changing, and the devastating effects on biodiversity, especially migratory shorebirds. This has helped develop new partnerships and commitments to protect these species and ecosystems. In 2019, Yellow Sea sites were added to the UNESCO World Heritage list.

Your task

What could be useful conservation actions or policies to help tidal flat ecosystems, and the species and ecosystem services they support, and why?

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IUCN Red List of Ecosystems: The Global Standard for Assessing Risks to Ecosystems

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