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NASA leverages gamers to save the world’s coral reefs

As rising temperatures continue to bleach delicate coral ecosystems, NASA scientists are turning to gamers to help map out the ocean floor.

If you’re willing to put your candy crushing obsession aside for a bit, NASA is offering gamers the opportunity to partake in a mission of global importance.

Despite covering less than a percent of the ocean floor, coral reefs are home to more than a quarter of all marine life – most of which is under constant threat due to the menace of global warming.

When it comes to the rising of temperatures, our oceans are said to absorb more than 90% of the heat energy from our greenhouse gas emissions. A drastic knock-on effect from this can lead to a process called bleaching, which has the potential to decimate coral on a monumental scale.

NASA had previously monitored the health of coral ecosystems through the use of ‘fluid lensing cameras’ which employ complex AI processes to see past optical distortions. As you’d imagine, getting eyes on the ocean floor isn’t always an easy thing.

Mounted onboard drones or passing aircraft on expeditions to Puerto Rico, Guam, American Samoa and elsewhere, these smart cameras have helped to build data on the fluctuating state of our coral reefs. However, the manual analysis which follows is often a slow and laborious process.

Now doubling down efforts to get a comprehensive overview of the situation, NASA is turning to gamers to maximise the efficiency of its coral mapping technology.

Essential to this initiative is a new game/app amusingly dubbed NeMO-NET, or the Neural-Modal Observation and Training Network, which will allow players to streamline classification for coral types and health.

When starting the game people will partake in virtual dives. Throughout, players will interact with educational snippets describing types of coral whilst manually highlighting where they appear in pre-recorded 3D images. This is set to improve NASA’s sorting reliability dramatically from 60% to 90% accuracy wise.

Pooling the classifications made by gamers on NeMO-NET severs, NASA is able to feed huge research samples centred on human discernment to its own supercomputer and quickly. Considering that just eight percent of coral is currently mapped out, this change of approach could be a serious game changer.

A press release on the NASA website states: ‘The more people who play NeMO-NET, the better the supercomputer’s mapping abilities become. Once it has been able to accurately classify corals from low-resolution data included in the game, the supercomputer will be able to map out the world’s corals at an unprecedented resolution.’

Teeming with life, coral reefs are regarded as vital ‘medicine cabinets’ of the 21st century with organisms like sponges, and shellfish contributing to the treatments of viruses like HIV and global diseases such as cancer.

Therefore, when the colourful algae from coral is bleached by rising temperatures and pollution, not only do we lose a beautiful and irreplaceable thing of nature, we’re also bearing witness to the destruction of marine life and a natural treasure chest of resources.

For some scope on the issue, 2020 saw more than a quarter of the Great Barrier Reef bleached and more than 1,000 individual reefs displaying signs of damage. Using the data from this new game, we can now hopefully get to work at preserving areas on the verge of immediate peril.

If you wish to get involved in this transformative project and make your casual gaming time mean something, head here for the iOS version – Android coming soon.


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