Facial Recognition Tech Helps Scientists Spot Bleached Corals

Palmyra Atoll coral reef in Northern PacificBEACON TRANSCRIPTAI tech can speed up conservationists efforts around the world, as a computers successfully managed to tell bleached corals from those not affected by the condition in hundreds of thousands of photos.

University of Queensland researchers said that the new tech can detect bleached corals much faster and accurately than a human team would.

In their experiment, researchers used thousands of underwater photographs of corals around the world. The University of Queensland team got precious help from Berkeley computer scientists, who created the state-of-the-art survey system called XL Catlin Global Reef Record.

The system was fed with hundreds of thousands of images researchers took across 26 countries over the last four years. Lead author of the study Ove Hoegh-Guldberg explained that his team came up with about 1,000 images every dive.

Next, the team asked Berkeley researchers to devise a computer system that can tell healthy corals from bleached ones in the photos. Computer algorithms should also be able to predict when a disease will hit a reef, when some corals will disappear, and a whole series of other important facts for conservationists.

The system can now process 90 photos per minute and the tech is 900 times faster than the human-powered system. Berkeley researchers explained that the process was greatly accelerated due to facial recognition technology.

The technology can not only recognize humans but unhealthy corals too. The computer can also tell how bad the coral bleaching is in some areas. Hoegh-Guldberg added that the new tech is much better at detecting ill corals than humans.

“They can do so much more in one dive,”

he said.

NOAA hailed the new tech as a “game-changer.” NOAA’s Mark Eakin, who has announced that a global coral bleaching event is about to enter a record third year earlier this week, was surprised to see how fast the images were processed by computers.

Other scientists are eager to use the new system to spot coral disease at its beginning. Ruth Gates of the International Society for Reef Studies noted that the record can help researchers worldwide better understand how fast reefs grow, how they change, and how bad some diseases are for the corals, also known as the rain forests of the sea.

The tool can also help conservationists fight off coral bleaching, a phenomenon triggered by rising sea temperatures which now plagues most of the world’s reefs including Australia’s famed Great Barrier Reef.

Image Source: Flickr