Helping save the Great Barrier Reef using TensorFlow and the power of Machine Learning

Coral reefs are some of the most diverse and important ecosystems in the world - both for marine life and society more broadly. Not only are healthy reefs critical to fisheries and food security, they provide countless additional benefits: protecting coastlines from storm surge, supporting tourism-based economies and sustainable livelihoods, and pushing forward drug discovery research.

2 years ago, at a lunch and meetup with Martin Wicke and Brano Kusy - we decide to work together and team up to see if Google could contribute to saving the great barrier reef from Crown of Thorns starfish and identifying other sea life. As an Australian - I knew of the importance of this mission for the world and for future generations to experience the wonder of the reef, and I decided to lean in heavily and help champion this effort at Google, helping to drive it forward. What followed - was a multi-step journey, with an incredible team and group of folks at Google and CSIRO, helping Brano's team end-to-end label, train, scale and deploy, to their boat mounted hardware, a new solution for rapidly identifying COTS (and many other things) in the Great Barrier Reef. You can see our research paper for the data here.

We launched a Kaggle competition, to help crowd source the final approach and enable this to be executed live on the Great Barrier Reef, and we're open sourcing it for the world as well. You can checkout my narration in the video below and see the original TensorFlow post.

Reefs around the world face a number of rising threats, most notably climate change, pollution, and overfishing. In the past 30 years alone, there have been dramatic losses in coral cover and habitat in the Great Barrier Reef (GBR), with other reefs experiencing similar declines. In Australia, outbreaks of the coral-eating COTS have been shown to cause major coral loss. These outbreaks can strip a reef of 90% of its coral tissue. While COTS naturally exist in the Indo-Pacific ocean, overfishing and excess run-off nutrients have led to massive outbreaks that are devastating already vulnerable coral communities.

Controlling COTS populations is critical to reducing coral mortality from outbreaks. Google has teamed up with CSIRO to supercharge efforts in monitoring COTS using artificial intelligence. This is just the beginning of a much deeper collaboration and we, along with the Great Barrier Reef Foundation, are extremely excited to invite you, our global ML community, to help protect the world's reefs.

Acknowledgements: Thanks to everyone whose hard work made this collaboration possible!

Google: Martin Wicke, Kemal El Moujahid, Sarah Sirajudddin, Scott Riddle, Glenn Cameron, Addison Howard, Will Cukierski, Sohier Dane, Ryan Holbrook, Khanh LeViet, Sachin Joglekar, Tei Jeong, Rachel Stiegler, Daniel Formoso, Tom Small, Ana Nieto, Arun Venkatesan

CSIRO: Jiajun Liu, Brano Kusy, Ross Marchant, David Ahmedt, Lachlan Tychsen-Smith, Joey Crosswell, Geoffrey Carlin, Russ Babcock