Track­ing reef health by satel­lite

Action Asia - - NEWS & VIEWS -

A NEW SATEL­LITE-BASED global mon­i­tor­ing sys­tem may ad­vance ef­forts to con­serve co­ral reefs. The brain­child of var­i­ous uni­ver­si­ties around the world, the new sys­tem analy­ses de­tailed high-res­o­lu­tion satel­lite im­ages, clas­si­fies reef types and de­tects near real-time changes and de­grees of dam­age. At­mo­spheric de­for­ma­tions as well as so­lar and wa­ter re­flec­tions are ac­counted for, while ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence, sup­ple­mented by on-site ver­i­fi­ca­tion by spe­cially trained mem­bers of lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties, help con­firm the data. Prior to this sys­tem, ex­ist­ing set­ups mainly re­lied on air sur­veys and send­ing out divers spe­cially but these meth­ods are ex­pen­sive and thus sur­veys were done only in­fre­quently. “There’s never been co­ral map­ping from satel­lite be­fore,” said Ruth Gates, Direc­tor of the Hawaii In­sti­tute of Ma­rine Bi­ol­ogy and a key mem­ber of the project. “We have never had a way to take im­ages like those and in­ter­pret them by us­ing these com­puter and AI ma­chine­learn­ing al­go­rithms that are driven by what we sci­en­tists or as peo­ple on the ground un­der­stand what’s go­ing on.” “We didn’t know which reefs re­cover and where to find them [in a timely man­ner]. When this tech­nol­ogy can cap­ture an im­age re­peat­edly in a re­ally quick time pe­riod, we can look at the same place ev­ery­day if we choose to.” Ahead of global im­ple­men­ta­tion in 2020, a pi­lot ver­sion was rolled out last fall at Great Bar­rier Reef ’s Heron Is­land, Light­house Reef in Belize, the main is­land of Hawaii, Moorea in French Poly­ne­sia and Karimun­jawa in In­done­sia – all of which are places where field work­ers are al­ready sta­tioned. The sys­tem’s im­ages pro­vide a 3.7-me­tre-per-pixel pho­to­mo­saic of the world’s reefs, a tool which will soon be avail­able for free for non-com­mer­cial use. Some of the im­agery – in­clud­ing Heron Is­land and part of Hawaii – has al­ready been an­a­lysed to lo­cate live corals, land, sand and rub­ble. – Jackie Kwok

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