How Google’s AI helped Australian researchers with conservation efforts

Dugongs, also known as “sea cows,” are large, herbivorous marine mammals that can be found in coastal waters across the globe. However, their populations have been steadily declining due to human activities such as development and fishing. As a marine mammal scientist, the author’s primary focus is on monitoring these creatures and their essential habitats.

The author’s research has primarily centered around dugongs as they serve as a reliable indicator of ecosystem health. A thriving population of dugongs in a seagrass meadow signifies a healthy habitat. On the other hand, a decrease in the number of dugongs indicates the need to address the health of the seagrass ecosystem, as well as the well-being of other animals dependent on it.

Monitoring dugongs is a challenging task, primarily because the most effective way to count them is from the air. This has led the author to spend countless hours in small planes, observing and counting these animals. In 2007, the author was among the first researchers to explore the potential use of drones for fauna surveys. Although drones proved to be safer and provided more accurate data, they generated thousands of still images that had to be manually reviewed.

The use of drones in fauna surveys has revolutionized the field of marine mammal monitoring. These unmanned aerial vehicles not only remove the risks associated with human observers in planes but also provide high-resolution images and video footage, allowing for more detailed analysis of dugong populations and their habitats. Furthermore, drones are more cost-effective and environmentally friendly compared to traditional plane surveys.

To analyze the vast amount of data collected by drones, the author and their team had to develop new methods and tools. They utilized image recognition software and machine learning algorithms to automate the process of detecting and counting dugongs in the images. This significantly reduced the time and effort required for data analysis, while also ensuring accuracy and consistency in the results.

The implementation of drone technology has enabled the author and other researchers to gain valuable insights into the distribution, abundance, and behavior of dugongs. By systematically monitoring these marine mammals, scientists can assess the impacts of human activities on their populations and advocate for the protection and conservation of their habitats.

In conclusion, dugongs are fascinating marine creatures that play a crucial role in indicating ecosystem health. Monitoring their populations and habitats has traditionally been challenging, but the advent of drone technology has revolutionized the field. Drones provide safer, more accurate, and cost-effective means of collecting data, and the use of image recognition software and machine learning algorithms simplifies the analysis process. Through these advancements, researchers can better understand and protect these gentle giants of the sea.


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