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Indonesia: Reef sounds recorded. A new method for assessing the condition of coral reefs

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Researchers from the University of Exeter and the University of Lancaster recorded sounds of a coral reef in Indonesia. As researchers say, healthy and damaged ecosystems sound completely different. Artificial intelligence helps in assessing their condition.

Coral reefs are one of the most sensitive ecosystems in the world, and they are difficult to monitor. Assessing their condition is not an easy task, requiring painstaking visual and acoustic analysis. British scientists have developed a much simpler method to monitor these valuable natural resources. It uses the sounds made by the inhabitants of the reef.

Indonesian coral reefReuters / Ben Williams / Tim Lamont / Hasanuddin University

“The microphones are listening for us”

According to Ben Williams from the British University of Exeter, the process of assessing the condition of coral reefs is largely automated.

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– We use the technique of passive acoustic monitoring, placing underwater microphones on the bottom of the ocean and leaving them to listen – explains the scientist. – They can work like this for weeks, months, maybe even longer. It is a “ocean ear” that collects data for us – he adds.

The experiment involved healthy, degraded and restored coral reefs off the coast of Indonesia. As you can hear in the recordings, ecosystems in good condition make sounds resembling the crackling of a burning fire. Williams explains that the “sound” of any reef depends on its condition.

“In healthy reefs, we often hear fish making sounds that are not recorded in degraded ecosystems,” he adds.

Healthy and degraded reefs differ in “sound”Reuters / Ben Williams / Tim Lamont / Hasanuddin University

Help from machines

The differences in the sounds of healthy and degraded reefs are not always audible to the human ear. That is why scientists decided to use machine learning processes. The recordings are analyzed by artificial intelligence, trained to find differences between the sounds of ecosystems. As Williams points out, it can determine the condition of a coral reef with an accuracy of 92 percent.

Syafyudin Yusuf of the Indonesian Hasanuddin University in Makasara said the method would help to monitor the condition of Indonesian coral reefs more efficiently.

Williams hopes this is not the end of underwater sound research. The scientist plans to send underwater microphones to different parts of the world: to Mexico, the Great Barrier Reef or the Virgin Islands. Coral reef restoration projects are being carried out at these sites, so passive acoustic monitoring can assist in monitoring the restoration progress.

Fish on a coral reefReuters / Ben Williams / Tim Lamont / Hasanuddin University

Main photo source: Reuters / Ben Williams / Tim Lamont / Hasanuddin University

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