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June 14, 2023

AI Reef Monitoring

NSF-supported researchers at the University of Hawaii at Mānoa have developed an artificial intelligence algorithm that allows for the measurement of changes in coral reef halos, which can be used as a benchmark of health in these marine ecosystems.

Credit: U.S. National Science Foundation

Tracking the health and vitality of coral reefs is complex. But cutting-edge artificial intelligence technology is helping to make conservationist's work a little easier. We'll explore the future of reef health in the U.S. National Science Foundation's "Discovery Files."

Coral reefs play an important role in the ocean's ecosystems but monitoring them is a challenging and time-consuming process. One approach researchers are using to check the health of reef systems is by watching the bare sand areas around a coral reef, called a reef halo.

NSF-supported marine biologists at University of Hawai'i at Mānoa have developed a new tool using a novel artificial intelligence algorithm that can look for these sandy reef halos from space.

By combining deep learning methods, they were able to train a system to automatically identify and measure the reef halos with great accuracy along thousands of miles of coastline from high-resolution satellite imagery.

The system was able to account for geographic and climate differences, allowing for the quick measurement of changes over time.

Marine Ecologist Paul Sikkel, "and of course the more you know the better you can manage coral reef ecosystems."

This advancement paves the way for developing a low-cost reef conservation tool that would be usable across the globe, providing great insights into these crucial coral reef ecosystems.

To hear more science and engineering news, including the researchers making it, subscribe to "NSF's Discovery Files" podcast.

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