Labor Day is right around the corner and with that comes the end of beach season, at least here in the US. With the summer and warmer weather soon coming to an end the beach will no longer be as desirable of a destination here but the warmer weather is just beginning in the southern hemisphere and they have beaches down there too. As beach season in Australia begins to heat up they are facing a major problem as their beaches are eroding. So, AI has been introduced to try to help save them.

Australia’s Beaches Are Disappearing

Australia has around 10,000 beaches in the country and some of the most iconic beaches in the world like Bondi Beach, Marley Beach and many others. Erosion though is taking its toll as waves are pulling more sand away than can be replaced and an increase in strong storms have exacerbated this problem. 

Saving The Beach

In order to save the beaches (and the economic benefits that come from them) Australian leaders have invested millions of dollars in an attempt to rehab the beaches. Rehabbing, while helping, is just delaying the inevitable. Erosion prevention is what the true goal is but it is hard to do as it is time consuming and expensive.

Seagrass Is Key

To prevent erosion of a beach one major thing needs to be present and that is seagrass. These underwater plants form into large meadows and help to stabilize the sea floor and absorb some of the energy that waves bring in. By reducing the wave energy less sand is removed from the beach and thus less erosion occurs. 

The problem is that like any nation in modern society Australians release harmful substances into the ocean. Wastewater alone can destroy these meadows in a matter of years and it can take upwards of half a century for these meadows to naturally reform. This spells doom for beaches around the world and for Australia in particular. 

Saving Seagrass Is Time Consuming

Monitoring the sea meadows has become a priority for marine scientists as they are as eager as any Australian to ensure their survival or repopulation. Unfortunately monitoring these meadows is a time consuming process that requires acquiring underwater footage and then manually assessing that footage. 

The process requires a diver to get into scuba gear and to be dragged by a boat overtop of the formation to acquire that footage and then assessing occurs. What kind of seagrass and whether it is healthy needs to be determined. It requires watching hours of footage that only a marine scientist can find interesting. All of this uses a custom-built application that uses Microsoft Access and Microsoft Excel to store data. It takes between 5 to 10 hours to analyze one video and 500 hours of unprocessed footage remains.

Enter AI

To help with analyzing video IBM and the Australian digital agency KWP! have teamed up to develop a system that uses AI to segment images taken of seagrass for analysis. With this system AI will have the ability to determine the type of seagrass and how dense it is, thus also determining its health. Data is stored in the cloud making it much more accessible as well for other marine scientists. Analysis time will go from about 8 hours on average to 20 minutes and the backlog of footage could be completed within 10 days.

So far AI has proven to be 91% accurate in its assessments and with more training it will only get better. Utilizing the cloud allows for faster processing and provides greater flexibility. There are some months where only about 10 hours of footage is acquired, since sharks inhabit the waters off of Australia making it dangerous to acquire footage so any backlog can be taken care of at that point.

It took IBM two weeks to get the system in place. 

Faster Analysis Means Better Conservation

With data analysis completed the areas where the sea grass is dying or is threatened can be identified and action taken to help restore the area thus saving Australia’s beaches and helping the environment in a bigger sense. It seems to be a win/win for everyone. Australians don’t have half a century to wait for a seagrass meadow to grow back if they want to keep enjoying the beach and the best part is this system can help marine scientists save beaches elsewhere around the world as well.

So don’t bail, put your bathers, boardies or budgie smugglers on, maybe bring some coldies and a sanger and head down to the beach! You can even bring your shark biscuits with you.

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