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AI plays key role in protecting Australia’s giant kelp forests

A project initiated to protect the giant kelp population in Australia, which is at risk of extinction due to global warming, is progressing more rapidly with the analysis of thousands of satellite images by Google’s artificial intelligence (AI) technology and studies on heat-resistant genes, according to Anadolu Agency.

Giant kelp forests, which extend from the seabed to the water surface and can reach heights of up to 30 meters (98 feet), constitute one of Australia’s natural beauties.

This plant community serves as an underwater forest, providing habitat for thousands of marine creatures ranging from small penguins to leafy sea dragons.

Kelp forests are found in five states across the country.

The Australian government listed kelp as an endangered plant and began conservation efforts in 2012 when much of this ecosystem disappeared over the years.

One of the efforts to improve the habitat in the region is being carried out with the support of Google’s AI technology.

Google Australia and Google Researc
h, the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO) affiliated with the Australian government, the Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies at the University of Tasmania, the Nature Conservancy, the Great Barrier Reef Foundation, and the Seaweed Forests Association are among the stakeholders of the project.

Craig Johnson, a member of the Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies at the University of Tasmania, spoke to Anadolu about the project.

Johnson noted that due to the increase in ocean temperatures and the resulting lack of nutrients in the waters, 95% of the giant kelp forest in the region has been lost.

“Up until about 1980, giant kelp forests were really obvious and they were an important part of the coastline of Tasmania. In fact, we had an industry that was based on harvesting the giant kelp,” he added.

‘We have never had a map of the distribution of giant kelp in Australia’

Johnson described the current situation as an ecological disaster, highlighting its complexit
y and the challenges in improvement efforts.

“Artificial intelligence helps us in two ways. One is mapping, and the other is genetic studies focusing on kelps’ tolerance to warm water,” he added.

Before collaborating with Google, Johnson noted the lack of a map pinpointing kelp populations, citing the challenge of locating fluctuating kelps.

Underlining that it is vital to locate the plants for conservation efforts, Johnson said artificial intelligence has a “great” contribution at this point.

AI analysis of satellite images since 2016 has provided crucial mapping data, aiding conservation efforts significantly, he added.

On the role of AI in studying heat-resistant kelps, he said it helped in processing complex information of the genetic data that was sent to CSIRO.

“It’s not something that a single human brain can actually deal with,” Johnson said.

On the efforts to cultivate heat-resistant kelp, he said attempts are underway based on AI-acquired data, with positive progress in lab and seabed studies

Final results remain uncertain, Johnson noted.

He acknowledged AI’s capabilities surpassing human capacity but stressed human intervention in implementing AI-generated solutions.

Emphasizing the need to address greenhouse gas concentrations, he said: “What we are doing here is trying to buy time until we solve the real problem.”

‘Artificial intelligence has a huge capability to solve environmental problems’

Scott Riddle, Google Australia’s strategic partnerships manager, expressed enthusiasm for AI’s significant contributions to environmental efforts.

Riddle emphasized AI’s role in data analysis, citing its potential to solve environmental problems by generating large-scale geographic data and making it understandable through mapping.

“As soon as people can understand a problem better, it’s much easier for them to solve it,” he added.

Emphasizing the project’s applicability in other regions globally, Riddle said the kelp project’s needs align with AI capabilities.

Riddle said: “You could just as ea
sily be mapping lion habitat in Africa,” showcasing AI’s scalability in environmental data mapping.

Besides mapping, he suggested that genetic studies from the project can inform other conservation efforts.

Riddle forecasted AI’s vital role in combating climate change, envisioning an increase in Australia’s giant kelp area with success.

“We need people to really understand AI to realize its full potential,” Riddle said, urging people to take the time to understand it.

Source: Azerbaijan State News Agency