Reef Support

Marcel Kempers, TU Delft

Coral reefs are one of the most biodiverse ecosystems in the world and also a significant food source for over a billion people worldwide. These amazing ecosystems are the most potential medicine source for the 21st century and promote a value of $9.6 billion in tourism and recreation. Healthy reefs act as natural barriers, protecting coastal cities, communities, and beaches from pounding ocean waves for nearly 200 million people.

In the last 30 years, we have already lost/severely damaged more than 50% of coral reefs, and 90% is estimated to be gone by 2050. Although rising sea temperatures are the biggest cause, there are practical actions that we can take today, provided information to act upon is available. While looking at how to improve current reef monitoring techniques, a lot has gone into hardware, but little on the software, which remains a bottleneck for marine research stations who monitor and protect our reefs. Current coral reef surveying and monitoring programs have several problems that restrict its full commercial scale:

1. Cost-related: Detailed, continuous monitoring of coral reefs by field survey is expensive and substantial reef areas are located in developing countries with limited resources.
2. Scale-related: Reefs are highly heterogeneous systems therefore even with sufficient resources, monitoring programs provide scattered information in time and space.
3. Time-related: Monitoring systems and programs can take months to implement, through strict regulations maritime jurisdictions. For a 1 day dive, a surveyor spends an average of 5 7 days in the office with data analysis on the computer sorting, counting, measuring and classify thousands of underwater images.

The mission of Reef Support is to build field-ready software to accelerate the transition from data-to-decisions to protect our oceans. At Reef Support, we develop a suite of Geographic Information System (GIS) tools and AI models to streamline a researcher’s workflow, provided as Software as a Service (SaaS).

Our software,, will condense the monitoring data processing from days into 2 hours using deep learning techniques and AI integrations which frees up tight governmental budgets in marine research stations in order to scale up reef monitoring and protection. We use deep learning techniques (computer vision) to build Coral AI that is able to operate in an ever changing context regarding the identification of the health and physical property of coral reefs and other types of marine biodiversity indicators. This classification is stored in an open database, that helps to digitalize bioinformation of our oceans, and is made public to international marine research institutes for data collecting, remote surveying and identification purposes. Currently, we have over 16,000 designated MPAs globally, but only 1,000 are fully protected and hence through our technology we support the growth in job opportunities in the environmental impact assessment sector.

At Reef Support, our mission is to support at least 50% of the world’s reefs by 2030. We also understand that data only goes so far as the people and organizations that take practical action for our oceans. This is why a focus of our team is reaching out to key partners who support the blue economy and protect our reefs and also why we entered our initiative here!

One point we learnt through our journey is that coral reef health is declining worldwide because of local (land-based) stressors like wastewater pollution, fertilizer run-off, coastal development and overfishing. While reef managers only look at what’s “in the water”. Thus, we aim to develop our innovation further to better connect the effects on coral community composition and abundance to potential human-induced factors so that we make quick changes to restore our reefs. Through satellite imaging of coastal activities, a deeper understanding of what factors, including terrestrial ones, can be linked to changes in coral reef indexes, which ultimately leads to more effective decision making, management and the general use of marine coastal ecosystems.

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