Focus-Science and Technology - - INNOVATIONS -

In the west­ern Pa­cific lies the Co­ral Tri­an­gle, stretch­ing across an area of 6,470,000km2 and en­com­pass­ing In­done­sia, Malaysia, the Philip­pines, Pa­pua New Guinea, Ti­mor Leste and the Solomon Is­lands. While much of the Tri­an­gle has been ex­pe­ri­enc­ing its worst ever bleach­ing event, Univer­sity of Queens­land researchers have used ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence to dis­cover that some of the reefs off Su­lawesi seem largely re­sis­tant to ocean warm­ing.

The team used un­der­wa­ter scoot­ers fit­ted with 360° cam­eras to pho­to­graph 3,851km2 of reef, cre­at­ing a to­tal of 56,000 im­ages. They then taught a deep-learn­ing pro­gram to iden­tify dif­fer­ent corals and in­ver­te­brates in the im­ages – once it had been shown around 500 pic­tures, it was able to process the rest au­tonomously. The analysis found that the reefs around Su­lawesi haven’t de­clined sig­nif­i­cantly since 2014.

The study of these heat-re­sis­tant reefs has given researchers hope that some co­ral might sur­vive the da­m­ag­ing ef­fects of hu­man-in­duced cli­mate change, and could re­plen­ish ad­versely af­fected reefs if we man­age to sta­bilise ocean tem­per­a­tures in the fu­ture.

Ex­perts agree that co­ral reef ecosys­tems world­wide could col­lapse as early as 2050 if car­bon emis­sions con­tinue at the cur­rent rate. This re­search pro­ject is part of the 50 Reefs ini­tia­tive, fo­cused on gath­er­ing and analysing data on the reef ecosys­tems that are most likely to sur­vive un­til global warm­ing is brought un­der con­trol.

Thanks to 360° imag­ing and AI, sci­en­tists now know more about the state of our co­ral reefs

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