Coral reefs are one of nature’s most amazing spectacles. Coral not only brings vibrance to underwater landscapes but also provides a home for more than a quarter of the world’s marine animals. Unfortunately, rising temperatures are putting corals under stress, expelling the algae that lend them their color which turns them a pallid white.
Just last year, the Great Barrier Reef, a quarter of which is already bleached, had more than 1,000 more individual reefs show signs of death. Making conscious efforts to minimize our carbon footprint will certainly help prevent mass coral bleaching, but if this issue moves you to participate more directly in saving the world’s corals, then there’s an app for that.
NeMo-Net is a coral classification game that you can download into your smartphone. It was developed by a team of NASA scientists in the Silicon Valley and is utilized by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to help map coral reefs.
Currently, only eight percent of the ocean floor is mapped out with the same photo resolution as terrestrial land. This is because mapping reefs normally involves high amounts of data and low-quality photos which slows down the analysis. Now, thanks to the game, users can answer questions about a coral’s location, its health, and how it’s changing over time.
Ved Chirayath, the lead scientist for NeMo-Net, spent three years developing the app with his team which was released last year. Within the first month, the game attracted 100,000 users. With the help of the players who identify these corals, data is collected to develop 3D, spinning pictures of coral species.
The image classified by one gamer is then linked to the image of another gamer, and so on. All that accumulated information is fed to a supercomputer, which creates a highly accurate picture of a coral species.
To reduce coral bleaching, enough information needs to be gathered about which corals die quickly and which ones are the most resilient. This information can help scientists develop strategies to protect and preserve corals as effectively as possible. The game itself won’t necessarily solve the problem of coral bleaching, but the educational value of the data it provides to both scientists and players will raise awareness of the issue, which in turn boosts research, change personal behaviors, and increase the chances of coral recovery.
The team hopes to expand its mapping capacity from American Samoa, Puerto Rico, and Guam to also include Palau.