Google’s Coral Reef Conservation Project Needs Your Ears

Google is enlisting the help of citizen scientists to save coral reefs through its new project called "Calling in our Corals.

Google is enlisting the help of citizen scientists to save coral reefs through its new project called “Calling in our Corals.” In collaboration with marine biologist Steve Simpson and marine ecologist Mary Shodipo, Google aims to train artificial intelligence (AI) models to recognize aquatic wildlife sounds, raise awareness about the plight of coral reefs, and restore damaged habitats.

Coral reefs, essential marine ecosystems, are facing rapid decline due to climate change, overfishing, and pollution. Rising water temperatures from climate change can cause coral to release symbiotic algae, making them more susceptible to disease and death. Additionally, increasing levels of CO2 in the atmosphere lead to ocean acidification, further damaging coral reefs.

The Google Arts & Culture experiment asks citizen scientists to listen to underwater recordings made with underwater microphones and identify high-pitched snaps, crackles, and pops of feeding shrimp, as well as lower-pitched gurgles, groans, and croaks of fish. By contributing their listening skills, citizen scientists can help train AI models that will aid conservation efforts. The goal is to automate the process with enough data from the collective efforts of participants.

Marine biologist Steve Simpson explained, “Coral reefs are surprisingly noisy places, but where they are damaged or overfished, they become quieter due to the lack of marine life.” The project’s recordings were made at 10 reefs across countries such as Australia, Indonesia, the Philippines, the US, Panama, and Sweden. The project aims to compare marine protected areas with areas that have declined due to overfishing and poor water quality, as well as areas where coral reefs are being actively restored through replanting corals and rebuilding habitats.

The project, “Calling in our Corals,” not only helps monitor marine wildlife activity but also aims to restore damaged habitats. Recent research has shown that playing back underwater recordings of healthy reefs using underwater speakers can attract new fish and other species to conserved reefs or those in need of restoration. By contributing to the project, citizen scientists can play a crucial role in the conservation of coral reefs.

Participating in the project is easy and takes only a few minutes. Although it may not be as entertaining as other online activities, the project’s creators emphasize that even a short three-minute session can make a difference. The more time participants spend on the project or share it with others, the more they contribute to a worthy cause.

While it may be surprising that AI models cannot be trained solely on sound waves, the crowdsourcing approach of involving citizen scientists can help raise awareness about the urgent need to protect coral reefs, which is often overlooked. Projects like “Calling in our Corals” reflect Google’s commitment to its idealistic roots from the “Don’t Be Evil” era, despite its evolution into a larger corporation.

To get involved in the project, interested individuals can watch the accompanying video below and visit the project website to start contributing their listening skills to help save coral reefs and protect marine wildlife. By joining forces with Google, marine biologist Steve Simpson, marine ecologist Mary Shodipo, and other participants around the world, citizen scientists can make a tangible impact in conserving these fragile ecosystems and preserving the biodiversity of our oceans for future generations.

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