Artificial Intelligence: The NOAA’s S.O.S to AI and Robotics for Coral Restoration

Efforts by human divers are inadequate to restore coral reefs. We need AI and robotics to reverse coral damage, says the NOAA.

Coral reefs, one of the most precious of Earth’s ecosystems are in grave danger. Globally, half have already died. The other half could vanish by the end of this century, according to Tom Moore, coral reef restoration program manager for the National Oceanic And Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). (Forbes)

The implications of this destruction are enormous. Representing 25% of oceans’ biodiversity, corals are also essential for fisheries. Fish are an important component of the global food chain. Moreover, fishing contributes many billions of dollars to the global economy.

Current coral restoration efforts are just not enough

Scientists and researchers are doing their best to restore the precious corals. Unfortunately, Moore says their “PVC pipes and zip ties” solutions are too little and will be too late. Simple fact: human divers can spend only three or four hours per day working underwater, and that too in good conditions. Snorkelers and scuba divers are, therefore, not enough to cope with the enormity of the task.

What is needed is automation to multiply the human efforts manifold, says Moore.

“We need to harness the power of automation, robotics, and artificial intelligence to allow us to work at the scales that will be necessary to truly address this global challenge,” he advises. “Those solutions will not be available overnight, but we need to start inventing them now so that they’re available when we need them.”

The parts are there – we just need to put it all together

According to Moore, the oil and gas industry uses underwater robotics technology for heavy equipment operating deep under the ocean surface. This technology could be modified for use with coral reefs. Along with advanced, AI-based image sensing technologies now available, robots could make coral restoration a lot easier and more efficient.

“You’ve got to have an underwater robot that’s able to navigate in and around coral heads, make a decision using AI to kind of put something in one place or another,” says Moore.

He says the technology for the idea exists – it’s simply a matter of assembling it.

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