Public urged to join fight for Australia’s Great Barrier Reef

Analysis of more than 25,000 images from divers, tourism operators and recreational boats on Australia’s annual Great Reef Census is getting under way. Now in its fourth year, one of the world’s fastest-growing conservation projects is helping to gauge the health and degradation of the world’s largest coral system, which is suffering from another mass bleaching event.
Australia’s Great Barrier Reef:- Analysis of more than 25,000 images from divers, tourism operators and recreational boats on Australia’s annual Great Reef Census is getting under way.[VOA]
Australia’s Great Barrier Reef:- Analysis of more than 25,000 images from divers, tourism operators and recreational boats on Australia’s annual Great Reef Census is getting under way.[VOA]

Australia’s Great Barrier Reef:- Analysis of more than 25,000 images from divers, tourism operators and recreational boats on Australia’s annual Great Reef Census is getting under way. Now in its fourth year, one of the world’s fastest-growing conservation projects is helping to gauge the health and degradation of the world’s largest coral system, which is suffering from another mass bleaching event.

The Great Reef Census collects a trove of images of what is arguably Australia’s greatest natural treasure.

Each picture can contain vital information about the health of the Great Barrier Reef. Together, the images create a vital evaluation of the state of the ecosystem.

The barrier reef stretches for 2,300 kilometers down Australia’s northeastern coast. It is under increasing threat from global warming, pollution and overfishing, as well as coral-eating crown of thorns starfish.

The surveillance project is urging so-called citizen scientists around the world to help in the analysis of the images. The survey also uses artificial intelligence to scan much of the data.

The public is being asked to analyze the images to see which reefs fared better than others and potentially identify so-called new "key source reefs," which are those reefs that appear to have escaped the worst of the degradation.

Anyone can help in the effort, said Nicole Senn, impact and engagement lead at Citizens of the Reef, which coordinates the survey.

"Citizen scientists using our A.I assisted platform can actually provide data that is highly comparable in accuracy to a reef expert, and it takes as little as one minute to analyze an image, and the data you are generating helps to prioritize conservation efforts on the reef and identify key source reefs,” she said. “These are healthy reefs that are positioned in a way that they can help nearby reefs recover and this is just one of the many ways your analysis of these images can help."

The Great Barrier Reef is suffering from another widespread bleaching event.

Scientists say that corals bleach, or turn white, when they are stressed by changes in water temperature, light, or nutrients. In response, the coral expels the symbiotic algae living in their tissues that give them their color and energy, exposing their white skeleton.

Not all bleaching incidents are due to warm water, but experts say the mass bleaching reported on the Great Barrier Reef is caused by a marine heatwave.

Experts say reefs around the world last year and early this year have been affected by high ocean surface temperatures.

Chris Lawson, a data scientist with the Great Reef Census’ Science Committee, told VOA that the situation appears to be dire.

"The latest mass bleaching event has been designated as the fourth global mass bleaching event,” he said. “So, it is not just in Australia, it has been observed globally and by all accounts is the worst one on record in terms of its extent and its severity of bleaching."

Experts say reefs’ extreme susceptibility to warming sea temperatures makes them one of the world's ecosystems that is most vulnerable to climate change. VOA/SP

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