Google wants you to lend your ears to help save coral reefs

Google is calling for recruits to help repopulate coral reefs. His new project, a collaboration with marine biologist Steve Simpson and marine ecologist Mary Shodipo, wants your help to train the AI ​​to recognize the sounds of aquatic wildlife in hopes of replenishing them and raising awareness of problematic habitats in the sea. ocean.

Earth’s coral reefs have been declining at a worrying rate thanks to climate change, overfishing and pollution. The higher water temperatures of our rapidly changing atmosphere can cause coral to release symbiotic algae that make it more prone to disease and death. Additionally, rising CO2 levels in the atmosphere can acidify the ocean and further damage reefs.

Google Arts & Culture’s new experiment asks a simple question: Take a few minutes to discern between the high-pitched clicks, crackles, and pops of feeding shrimp and the lower-pitched gurgles, moans, and croaks of fish, and then use your new knowledge. contribute to an AI model that will aid conservation efforts. You’ll open a browser window, listen (preferably using headphones) to underwater recordings made with an underwater microphone, and tap an on-screen button when you think you hear fish. If enough people contribute, the data should help automate the process.

“Coral reefs are surprisingly noisy places, but where they are damaged or overfished, they become quieter due to the lack of marine life,” Simpson said. “In some places, our research consists of placing sound recorders inside marine protected areas (where there is no fishing) and in nearby fishing areas to compare, to hear the benefits of protection. Elsewhere, we are comparing sites that have declined due to overfishing and poor water quality with those where we are actively restoring coral reefs by replanting corals and rebuilding habitats.”

“There are too many recordings for any one person to sit down and listen to, and that’s where you come in,” Simpson explained. “We need your help, and the help of others like you, to form a listening collective. Their data will then be used to train computers to listen for fish sounds automatically.” The team’s recordings were made on 10 reefs in countries including Australia, Indonesia, the Philippines, the United States, Panama and Sweden.

Underwater view of a coral reef with a hydrophone (underwater microphone) protruding upwards.  Light.

Calling our corals / Google

In addition to improving their ability to monitor marine wildlife activity, the researchers believe the project can help restore them. “New research has found that when played with underwater speakers in damaged habitats, these sounds can even be used to call out new recruits, which is why our project and accompanying online platform are called ‘Calling Our Corals’. Simpson said. . In other words, reproducing the sounds of healthy reefs could attract new fish and other underwater species to preserved reefs or those that have fallen on hard times due to the devastating ecological effects of human industry.

Contributing only takes a few minutes. While I wouldn’t describe it as the ultimate entertainment, it’s at least as enjoyable as time-wasting browser games that don’t contribute to real-world efforts. The creators of the project stress that even sitting down for a three-minute session will help your efforts. And the more time you spend (or tell others about the project), the more you’ll contribute to a good cause.

While I’m surprised they can’t train AI models on sound waves alone without the crowdsourced part, inviting the general public to contribute should help raise awareness of a crucial, often overlooked aspect of the changing planet. As much as Google has transformed since its early years, projects like this still remind me of the company’s more idealistic roots from the “Don’t Be Evil” era.

You can get started by watching the video below and visiting the project website.

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