Researchers Using AI to ‘Listen’ to Coral Reefs and Learn More About Their Health

An worldwide team of scientists is studying the underwater noises created by coral to learn more about the marine critters using artificial intelligence, or AI.

Coral are tiny invertebrates that form massive rock-like formations called reefs in warm seas.

To understand, the scientists listened to aquatic sound records obtained off the islands of central Indonesia.

Corals communicating through sounds


(Photo : KOEN VAN WEEL/ANP/AFP via Getty Images)

They discovered that coral reefs emit a variety of noises and are rich in animal and plant life. Last month, scientists from British and Indonesian institutions published their findings in Ecological Indicators, as per Learning English.

The researchers utilized hundreds of sound recordings to teach a computer software to listen to coral reefs and track their health.

The sound of a healthy reef is complex and “crackling, campfire-like.” Because of all the species that live on and in it. Ben Williams, the team’s main researcher, described a sick reef as forlorn.

The AI system collects data from the recordings, such as the frequency and volume of the noises. According to the study, the AI system can determine if a reef is healthy or sick 92 percent of the time based on this information.

The researchers anticipate that the AI system will assist environmental organizations all around the world in monitoring the condition of coral reefs.

The researchers also plan to collect undersea records from reefs in Australia, Mexico, and the Virgin Islands to aid in the tracking of coral-rebuilding operations.

Carbon dioxide emissions, according to scientists, are harming coral reefs.

According to scientists, heat-trapping carbon gases warm ocean surfaces by.13 degrees Celsius every ten years.

They also claim that ocean acidification has grown by 30% ever since beginning of the industrial revolution.

According to the Global Coral Reef Monitoring Network, a United Nations organization, 14 percent of the world’s coral was destroyed from 2009 and 2018.

Read more: One of the Most Vibrant Coral Reef Systems in the World Faces a Dangerous Threat

What have found underwater?

While presenting these findings to the Acoustical Society of America, Lauren Freeman, senior oceanographer at the Naval Undersea Warfare Center, stated that soundscaping provides a “very great pulse” of what’s going on on the reef, as per The Guardian.

Overfishing, pollution, and climate change are all putting a strain on coral reefs.

Between 2019 and 2020, Freeman and her colleagues studied the acoustics of reefs off the coast of Hawaii, comparing them to soundscapes from the ocean around Bermuda and New England.

They buried underwater microphones in water for up to six months, recording soundscapes at regular intervals.

They sought to recreate what was happening underneath by breaking down the resultant noises and analyzing them down to the microsecond level: various fish species eating, whales passing by, and boat motors roaring in the distance.

Most reefs are noisy when it is warmer and just before the sun sets and rises. Hotter weather tends to correspond with higher levels of activity in ecosystems; for example, many species give birth in the spring, while twilight and dawn create a type of underwater “rush hour” between diurnal and nocturnal organisms, according to Freeman.

The researchers discovered that unhealthy coral ecosystems sound less lively and generate more high-frequency noises.

While healthy reefs have readings ranging from 2 to 8 kilohertz, less diversified reefs tend to have readings over 12kHz as they become overpopulated with macroalgae, which produce oxygen bubbles that float to the top and rupture, producing a particular high-frequency sound.

The findings will let more academics employ soundscapes to study reefs and track the success of existing restoration programs.

Traditional reef surveying offers several obstacles, including high costs for boats and personnel, time constraints for divers below, tiny sections of coral that can be surveyed, and the fact that there are just too many reefs to monitor. Sound surveys have the potential to change all of that.

Related article: Strange Fish Songs Reveal That Indonesia’s Coral Reefs Are Rapidly Recovering

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