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Global Help Sought in Huge Citizen Science Project on Australia’s Great Barrier Reef

FILE - A school of blue-green chromid fish swim above corals on Moore Reef in Gunggandji Sea Country off coast of Queensland in eastern Australia, Nov. 13, 2022.

As Australia marks World Environment Day Monday (June 5), campaigners are asking an international army of volunteers to analyze a trove of images from the Great Reef Census. One of the world’s fastest growing conservation projects has been undertaken by divers and snorkelers on tourism and recreational vessels as well as dive boats and super yachts.

From space, there’s only one living thing that can be seen. It’s the Great Barrier Reef — arguably Australia’s greatest natural treasure. This wonderland is made up of 3,000 individual coral reefs. It’s home to a spectacular array of jellyfish, worms, fish, whales and dolphins.

Over the past 3 years, the annual Great Reef Census has gathered about 80,000 individual images. It’s one of the most comprehensive snapshots of the health of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef from the Torres Strait in the far north to Lady Elliot Island in the south.

The world’s largest coral system is under threat, but to recognize the dangers, researchers need information.

Andy Ridley, the head of Citizens of the Great Barrier Reef that organizes the survey, told VOA Monday that he wants volunteers around the world to donate their screen time to help examine the images.

“Doing analysis is really, really easy. Essentially, we’re looking for how much plate coral there is, how much boulder coral there is, how much branching coral there is and there is a really, kind of, easy tutorial that gets you up to speed really quickly to enable you to analyze an image. It should take you probably less than a minute to analyze one image that has come back from one of 500 reefs across the Great Barrier Reef,” he said.

The surveillance project on the Great Barrier Reef also uses artificial intelligence to scan much of the data.

Ridley said the initial results of the latest survey are impressive.

“We have found ecosystems that were previously undiscovered, we found shipwrecks in the north that had never been found, more than 3 tons of ghost nets, so these are nets that keep on fishing once they’ve been dropped off fishing boats that have been recovered and brought off the reef. In terms of the results of how much coral there is, we are really looking at that now. This whole thing is live as we speak. So, we’ll be able to share more within the next few weeks,” he said.

The world’s largest coral system is a place like no other. It stretches for 2,300 kilometers down Australia’s north-eastern coast.

Experts say that some parts of the reef are flourishing. Others, though, are under siege from warmer ocean temperatures and more intense tropical storms as well as coral-eating crown-of-thorns starfish, pollution and over-fishing.