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Coral conservationists are launching a new satellite-based monitoring system

The new system will provide daily high-resolution images of coral reefs.

A new global monitoring system capable of detecting daily changes in coral cover will launch this fall at five pilot sites. The satellite-based system will enable researchers, policymakers, and environmentalists to track sever bleaching events, reports Rhett A. Butler for Pacific Standard. The system is the product of a partnership between Paul G. Allen Philanthropies, Planet, the Carnegie Institution of Science, the University of Queensland, and the Hawaii Institute of Marine biology.

Rising sea temperatures, coastal development, and unsustainable fishing practices cause reef damage, and trigger bleaching. The new monitoring system looks to provide daily high-resolution cover of the reef. “This system could be a game-changer for coral reef conservation,” says Greg Asner, a scientist at Carnegie. “It will be the first large-scale monitoring system that can detect where reefs are changing thereby enabling direct action to mitigate losses.” Current monitoring systems aren’t comprehensive, writes Butler, usually based on scuba or aircraft surveys, which are limited in extent.

In contrast, the new system leverages Planet’s daily high-resolution satellite imagery, running the data through cloud computing-based artificial intelligence, Butler explains. Algorithms from ocean researchers at the University of Queenland’s Remote Sensing Research center is then applied to the satellite imagery in order to classify the reefs. Finally, Carnegie applies a change detection algorithm to the data, which gives the system its monitoring capability. Andrew Zolli, vice president for global impact initiatives at Planet, believes the system is the first step in accelerating “action on the coral crisis before it’s too late.”

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