Scientists are taking the public with them to study the world’s coral reefs, thanks to 360 degree panoramas from Google’s underwater street-view format. Results from this pioneering project – which will allow ecologists to harness people power to discover how coral reefs are responding to climate change – will be presented at an international ecology meeting, in London this week.
Ove Hoegh-Guldberg of the University of Queensland leads the research associated with the Catlin Seaview Survey. The survey uses image recognition technology to automatically assess creatures on the seabed. So far it has already taken hundreds of thousands of images on the Great Barrier Reef and in the Caribbean.
“This new technology allows us to rapidly understand the distribution and abundance of key organisms such as corals at large scales. Our expeditions in 2012 to the Great Barrier Reef recorded over 150 kilometers of reef-scape using these methods,” he says.
The project is now being expanded by building citizen science into the research, which he hopes will raise awareness and provide more data. “We are planning to involve online citizens to help us count a wide range of organisms that appear in the high-definition images. Anyone with access to a computer will be able to help us log creatures such as stingrays, turtles, fish and crown of thorns starfish.”
“Only 1 percent of humanity has ever dived on a coral reef and by making the experience easily accessible the survey will help alert millions of people around the world to the plight of coral reefs,” he says.