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Google wants you to listen to coral reefs. It just might help restore them.

Do you know what snapping shrimp sound like? Tune into this "bioacoustic mission."
By Meera Navlakha  on 
A coral reef.
Credit: Google

Google wants your help in preserving and restoring coral reefs, and has designed a platform to help with this mission in mere minutes. All you have to do is tune in.

Called "Calling in Our Corals"(opens in a new tab), the new citizen science project is a collaboration between Google Arts and Culture and marine biologists across the globe. People are being asked to listen to underwater recordings of coral reefs in Marine Protected Areas through an online platform, identifying sounds made by fish, shrimp, and other marine creatures in order to monitor ecosystems and determine opportunities for reef restoration.

Scientists have placed hydrophones in 10 reefs across Australia, Indonesia, Philippines, the U.S., Panama, and Sweden, which record 24 hours a day, meaning there's hundreds of hours to sift through. The resulting sounds will be used to "call life back" into damaged reefs by hopefully restoring the area's biodiversity. The data will also be used to train an AI model designed to listen to the sounds itself, and enhance understanding and research of coral reefs.

"The audio datasets you will hear have not yet been moderated by the scientists: as you listen, your valuable clicks on the audio will be tracked as timestamps and sent to the researchers so they can understand if there are signs of life in their recordings," reads the project website. "This will be used to monitor ecosystem health, track illegal fishing, and measure success at restoration sites."

As well as illegal fishing and habitat destruction, climate change is "the greatest global threat to coral reef ecosystems," according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)(opens in a new tab). Warming sea temperatures have caused mass coral bleaching in reefs all over the planet, and the ocean's increased absorption of carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere has led to widespread ocean acidification, which eats away at coral skeletons.

But what you might not know is that despite their underwater locations, coral reefs are actually full of sound, meaning you can tell when one has been potentially impacted — those that are quieter are suffering from a lack of marine life. Analyzing the soundscapes of coral reefs can lead to innovative regeneration, which is why Google is calling the project a "bioacoustic mission." So, along with identifying which reefs have been impacted, by identifying the exact creatures making each reef their home, scientists can make calls on how to build those populations and restore the biodiversity of the reef.

"You've got thousands of species of fish that are producing pops and chirps and cranks as they communicate with each other," says Steve Simpson(opens in a new tab), a professor of marine biology at the University of Bristol, in a video on the project's website. "In the background, you've got the snapping shrimp, each making little popping sounds that together make the reef crackle."

Each recording on the platform is paired with a spectogram, showing the spectrum of frequencies of the recorded sound waves. The project instructs you in learning how to identify the difference between creatures with higher and lower frequency sounds, and all you have to do is hit a button when you hear something.

More in Google

Meera is a Culture Reporter at Mashable, joining the UK team in 2021. She writes about digital culture, mental health, big tech, entertainment, and more. Her work has also been published in The New York Times, Vice, Vogue India, and others.


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