ROVs and AUVs Lead the Charge in Coral Reef Revival
Coral reefs provide many benefits, both economically and environmentally, but they are under threat. However, ROVs and AUVs are helping to kickstart their revival.
The Coral Crisis in a Nutshell:
The Coral Reefs are under grave threat due to climate change, pollution, and human activities. This is very concerning as over a quarter of marine species live on coral reefs, which cover only 0.2% of the seafloor.
As the oceans have warmed and become more acidic in recent years, corals have become more susceptible to disease and death. A 1.5C increase in water temperature could result in 70-90% of world reefs being lost, according to the Global Coral Reel Monitoring Network.
"Climate change is the most significant threat to coral reefs around the world," reported Dr Cathie Page from the Australian Institute of Marine Science's (AIMS) to BBC.
Coral restoration undoubtedly depends on cutting-edge data analysis and modelling. Thanks to the remarkable contribution of Remote Operated Vehicles (ROVs) and Autonomous Underwater Vehicles (AUVs). The high-tech marvels are playing a crucial role in reviving coral reefs, offering a glimpse of optimism for the future.
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ROVs: The Ocean's Eyes:
According to NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration), ‘’ROVs are unoccupied, highly manoeuvrable underwater machines that can be used to explore ocean depths while being operated by someone at the water surface’’. Their manoeuvrability to explore corals is key to helping map out areas of concern and help conservationists determine the right approach to restoration.
ROVs provide scientists with an up-close look at coral reefs, allowing them to monitor the health of coral colonies and the surrounding ecosystem. These invaluable insights help researchers understand the impact of environmental stressors on coral reefs, guiding conservation efforts and strategies.
Courtesy of NOAA
AUVs: The Autonomous Explorers:
NOAA explains AUVs as ‘’unmanned, untethered vehicles used to conduct underwater research’’. They navigate the ocean depths independently, collecting data and mapping the seafloor. Their ability to cover large areas efficiently makes them crucial for assessing the extent of coral reef damage and planning restoration projects.
AUVs use advanced sonar systems and high-resolution cameras to create detailed 3D maps of the seafloor and coral formations. These maps serve as blueprints for restoration initiatives, helping scientists identify areas where coral transplantation can be most effective.
AUVs are also instrumental in sustainable management practices for coral reefs. The devices are capable of monitoring coral health, tracking fish populations, and detecting signs of pollution and coral disease outbreaks. Conservationists can use this data to protect and preserve these ecosystems.
Coral Restoration: A High-Tech AI Affair:
The revival of coral reefs involves more than just monitoring and data collection; it requires active intervention. Dr. Foster a marine biologist from Abrolhos Islands, as reported by BBC News, is developing a novel system to expedite coral reef restoration. Her method involves grafting coral fragments into specialized plugs and placing them on a moulded limestone-type concrete base designed for mass production and easy deployment. Initial results have been promising, with successful growth observed in various coral species.
Dr. Foster's start-up, Coral Maker, is partnering with Autodesk to employ artificial intelligence-controlled robots for tasks like grafting and placing coral fragments. While challenges like delicate handling of live coral, saltwater damage to electronics, and high costs persist, the project aims to cater to the tourism industry and issue biodiversity credits for funding. Other restoration methods, such as coral seeding and innovative approaches like sound-based attraction of fish, are also being explored in the broader effort to save coral reefs, acknowledging the complexity of the problem.
In summary, coral reef restoration is a global concern, threatened by climate change and human activities. However, the emergence of advanced technologies like ROVs and AUVs, combined with innovative approaches such as AI-driven coral restoration, offers efficient solutions for their revival.
By harnessing the power of science and cutting-edge tools, we have the opportunity to not only monitor and understand these fragile ecosystems better but also actively intervene to protect and restore them. As we move forward, it is crucial that we continue to prioritise the conservation of coral reefs, recognizing their significance to both marine life and our planet's ecological balance.
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