A world first at the time of inception, Marine Discoveries was the lead partner with AIMS and GBRMPA in a project that links science, management, and industry.
The project began in 2018 with a pilot study that built on existing and proven methodology through the GBRMPA’s ‘Eye on the Reef’ program. Through the introduction of geo-referenced images, analysed by artificial intelligence to monitor changes in coral cover over time, this project quickly became a key tool to monitor the changes of the Great Barrier Reef.
Since the pilot study ended, the project has been adopted by GBRMPA and integrated into the everyday surveying that tourism operators have been doing since 1986.
Marine Discoveries has been a key part of the integration and currently runs the Photo Point survey for many of the Cairns and Port Douglas tourism industry vessels. The inclusion of the additional survey has created an enduring change in the industry that will lead to increased knowledge of sites, a regenerative visitor experience and stronger management.
Marine Discoveries staff select representative locations with the help of the tourism staff’s local knowledge as well as train staff in data collection where necessary.
The innovation of this project comes from the use of the AI. It gives us the ability to analyse thousands of images and points quickly as well as observe and understand how coral cover and diversity is changing on the reef. The geo-referencing allows the photos and tracks to be repeatable and the data reliable.
The tourism industry is, and always has been, actively monitoring and reporting on reef health. GBRMPA uses this data to inform their management or decide on incident responses. Through the inclusion of our project into the framework of surveying, tourism operators and ourselves are now taking underwater images several times a year. The data we collect is integrated by GBMRPA into the Reef 2050 Integrated Monitoring and Reporting Program as well as being used by Marine Discoveries for future research.
A vital part of the project is in the analysis of the data. Despite the AI being designed to be faster and more efficient than any human could be, there is still a degree of training that must be included as with any new technology. Between Marine Discoveries researchers and our interns, we use our knowledge to increase the accuracy of the AI and ensure the best results possible. Our interns are crucial in this data analysis and project.