Google and CSIRO Are Using AI to Target Starfish and Save the Great Barrier Reef

Google and CSIRO Are Using AI to Target Starfish and Save the Great Barrier Reef

Google has partnered with CSIRO to help protect the Great Barrier Reef from predators, focusing on the pesky crown-of-thorns starfish.

The Great Barrier Reef is the world’s biggest coral reef system, and is home to a rich and diverse ecosystem of marine life. This includes more than 600 species of coral. The reef, however, is facing a number of very serious threats, including climate change, pollution, the impact of fishing and the predatory crown-of-thorns starfish. This species of starfish feeds on living coral, and outbreaks are devastating to the livelihood of the reef.

Google is bringing its artificial intelligence/machine learning expertise and the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) is bringing its scientists. Together, they’re developing a machine learning solution to analyse underwater images of the starfish species. This new AI technology has now been put to the test by researchers, in the southern Great Barrier Reef.

The early benefits of this technology was shared today on-stage at Google I/O 2022 – Google’s annual developer conference.

As Google explains, traditional reef surveys have been manual and time consuming, involving towing a diver behind a boat. That’s where AI comes in. The technology can help analyse imagery and detect crown-of-thorns starfish more accurately and efficiently, via a live camera feed.

This allows scientists to keep a closer and clearer watch of the reef, so outbreaks can be managed more effectively.

google great barrier reef
Image: Google

“We believe AI technology has the potential to help research into other environmental challenges around the world,” Google said of the tech used for the Great Barrier Reef.

As a result, it announced this morning that it is open sourcing this AI model so that students, researchers and data scientists can build on the tech to preserve other parts of the environment.

The initiative forms part of Google’s Digital Future Initiative, a $1 billion investment in Australian infrastructure, research and partnerships. During Google I/O, the company said it would continue to partner with CSIRO to help address a range of issues, including energy and natural hazard management.

“This investment in partnership will bring the brightest minds together to make groundbreaking discoveries, develop new products – and help to propel the next wave of homegrown innovation,” Google said.

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