Game-changing robotics helping grow new corals

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Growing vast numbers of healthy corals, also known as coral propagation, can change the face of reef conservation, assisting in releasing millions of corals back into the wild and restoring the Great Barrier Reef, according to the Great Barrier Reef Foundation.

In a statement, the foundation said before releasing the baby corals onto the Reef, researchers must track their numbers, growth, and health in special aquarium tanks on land. Counting and monitoring infant coral propagation was previously done by hand, which is time-consuming and labour-intensive.

A new engineering approach is now providing an autonomous hand. Teams from the Reef Restoration and Adaptation Program (RRAP), led by QUT scientists, have successfully trialled game-changing coral counting technology, which will be employed throughout yearly coral spawning events.

The device features a prototype robotic camera that detects and counts individual coral pups and tracks their health and growth in real-time using computer vision and learning algorithms. It will give coral biologists unprecedented control over mass-producing corals.

According to lead researcher Dr Dorian Tsai, one of the system’s greatest benefits is that it enables researchers to count delicate day-old newborns for the first time thanks to contact-free cameras.

Furthermore, the low-cost and modular technology will enable restoration solutions for larger reef communities worldwide, resulting in a scalable and reliable product that can be used with little training.

This effort is part of RRAP’s Translation to Deployment program, which is focused on developing engineering and automation solutions and routes that will enable reef restoration on a never-before-seen scale.

R&D innovations such as this coral counting technology provide the critical step change required to achieve influence at scale and bring real hope for our Reef.
The Reef Restoration and Adaptation Program is supported by a collaboration between the Australian Government‘s Reef Trust and the Great Barrier Reef Foundation, as well as partners such as the Australian Institute of Marine Science, CSIRO, the Great Barrier Reef Foundation, The University of Queensland, Queensland University of Technology, Southern Cross University, and James Cook University.

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