Aaron Bunch Journalist with Australian Associated Press | Collection of published work | + 61 484 008 119 | abunch@aap.com.au

Aaron Bunch
Scientists use AI to help save coral reefs

Australia’s tropical marine research agency is set to use cloud computing and artificial intelligence to better understand and conserve threatened coral reefs.

February 13, 2021

Australia’s tropical marine research agency is turbocharging facial recognition technology to analyse coral reef survey photos in a bid to keep pace with the rapid change in the threatened environments.

Data from the images could one day help researchers around the globe better understand the impact of climate change and other human activity on ecosystems, including the Great Barrier Reef.

Each year, scientists at the Australian Institute of Marine Science collect hundreds of thousands of underwater survey images of coral reefs for later study.

But many reefs were changing so fast, scientists could not keep pace using traditional hands-on analysis technics, which are very time-consuming.

AIMS’s solution to break the analysis bottleneck was to bring facial recognition technology into the marine conservation space.

The technology classified images hundreds of times faster than humans could but even it has been outpaced by rapidly evolving marine environments.

“The changes are happening really quickly and they aren’t just on one reef but across the world,” AIMS marine biologist Manuel Gonzalez Rivero told AAP.

“So the challenge was how can we fast track our way to documenting and understanding it to create a solid stream of data and knowledge.

“We quickly realised to get this fully operational and be efficient we’d need to bring in the big guns.”

AIMS teamed up with technology developers in Ireland who have helped to further develop the agency’s ability to collect and analyse reef monitoring data.

They are also helping AIMS move towards harnessing the processing power and storage of cloud computing to beef up the agency’s artificial intelligence capabilities.

“The rate at which we’ll be able to generate knowledge will dramatically increase,” Dr Rivero said.

“Having the capacity to understand what is happening on the reefs will help us to be more agile and make better decisions about how to protect coral reefs.”

Dr Rivero said researchers also hoped to start sharing that information with marine scientists in other countries, where many reefs are in much poorer health than those found along the Australian coast.

“Reefs around the world are working but many are critical and if we push them too hard they could collapse,” he said.

“Knowledge has to be shared across nations and organisations to make the most of it and better manage the consequences of our actions.”

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