A recent scientific survey off the coast of Sulawesi Island in Indonesia suggests that some shallow water corals may be less vulnerable to global warming than previously thought.
Between 2014 and 2017, the world’s reefs endured the worst coral bleaching event in history, as the cyclical El Niño climate event combined with anthropogenic warming to cause unprecedented increases in water temperature.
But the June survey, funded by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen’s family foundation, found the Sulawesi reefs were surprisingly healthy.
In fact the reefs hadn’t appeared to decline significantly in condition than when they were originally surveyed in 2014 – a surprise for British scientist Dr Emma Kennedy, who led the research team.
A combination of 360-degree imaging tech and Artificial Intelligence (AI) allowed scientists to gather and analyse more than 56,000 images of shallow water reefs. Over the course of a six-week voyage, the team deployed underwater scooters fitted with 360 degree cameras that allowed them to photograph up to 1.5 miles of reef per dive, covering a total of 1487 square miles in total.
Researchers at the University of Queensland in Australia then used cutting edge AI software to handle the normally laborious process of identifying and cataloguing the reef imagery. Using the latest Deep Learning tech, they ‘taught’ the AI how to detect patterns in the complex contours and textures of the reef imagery and thus recognise different types of coral and other reef invertebrates.
Once the AI had shown between 400 and 600 images, it was able to process images autonomously. Says Dr Kennedy, “the use of AI to rapidly analyse photographs of coral has vastly improved the efficiency of what we do — what would take a coral reef scientist 10 to 15 minutes now takes the machine a few seconds.”