Help Map the World’s Coral Reefs

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NASA has invited video game enthusiasts and people with a scientific bent to help them map the world’s coral reefs. Using a program called NeMO-Net, players can learn how to identify different species of coral using images taken from NASA.

The Importance of Coral

Besides being spectacular places to go diving and snorkeling, coral reefs around the world are home to a myriad of species of undersea life. From algae to fish, sea sponges and more, the life that exists in coral reefs is estimated to be as abundant as the species found in the world’s rainforests. Just like we use species found in the rainforest for medicinal purposes, many species that thrive in a coral reef habitat have also been beneficial in a medical setting. 

Global warming has led to changes in the world’s coral reefs. As the ocean grows warmer it acidifies, leaving less and less oxygen in the water for life to thrive on. Corals can be fragile, and the changes we’ve already seen in the climate have led to great areas of die-off in some reef areas. Protecting the reefs we have left and researching how to protect them against continued climate change is essential for preserving these priceless ecosystems. 

Dive with NASA

NASA has taken many of the technologies normally used to look up at the sky and pointed them into the ocean to create a massive 3D map of the sea floor. NASA’s Ames Research Center in California has developed techniques to accurately image the seafloor and take away the optic distortions caused by the water. 

Using NeMO-Net, citizen gamers are able to learn what different kinds of corals look like in NASA’s images and begin exploring on their own virtual underwater journey aboard the appropriately named Nautilus. While underway, gamers can map coral reefs, identifying and classifying the species they find there. This data is then uploaded into NASA’s supercomputer Pleiades, which utilizes machine learning skills to compile a database and begin identifying coral reef areas on its own. The more people who map the corals, the faster the supercomputer is able to learn. 

Screenshot from NASA NeMO-Net

Citizen Conservation

NASA is tapping into a resource that many other researchers have found beneficial- the power of citizen science. Together we can synthesize data faster than any computer, and compile information that is essential for the protection of fragile ecosystems. Whether we are pointing our cameras at the sky or deep below the sea, we continue to find things to be amazed at. 

NeMO-Net is available for iOS devices, with an Android application in the works. 


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Resources

Cole, Steve, Hawkes, Alison. NASA. 9 April 2020. Retrieved from https://www.nasa.gov/press-release/nasa-calls-on-gamers-citizen-scientists-to-help-map-world-s-corals/

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