Meet the robot fighting back against coral reef destruction

robot 2019

(Andy Kelly, Unsplash)

This article is brought to you thanks to the collaboration of The European Sting with the World Economic Forum.

Author: Kate Whiting, Senior Writer, Formative Content


Covered with toxic spines, it has multiple arms and is capable of regeneration. With a voracious appetite, it expels its stomach out of its mouth to eat, leaving just skeletons in its wake.

But this is no sci-fi fantasy. The crown-of-thorns (COTS) starfish is a real life monster – and it’s invading our oceans.

Ranging in size from 25 to 80 centimeters wide, coral-eating COTS are the world’s second-biggest starfish – and increasingly plaguing coral reefs. An individual starfish produces 60 million eggs in a given season. They are rapidly multiplying as natural predators are dwindling due to overfishing and contaminated seas.

A starfish diet usually consists of branching corals, which grow faster than other species. But in the absence of these, any other coral, as well as sponges and algae, are fair game.

In healthy reef systems, starfish can help increase biodiversity by giving slower-growing corals a chance to flourish. But when COTS multiply, reef systems can be destroyed, with starfish populations able to strip them of 90% of their living coral tissue.

Fighting back

Current methods aimed at keeping COTS populations in check include taking the starfish ashore and burying them, injecting them with toxic chemicals or bile salts and building underwater fences to limit their movement.

However, these methods are expensive, labour intensive and can only realistically be justified for reefs that have a high socioeconomic or biological significance, such as tourist destinations.

Image: Barrierreef.org

 

So, scientists at the Queensland University of Technology, backed by funding from Google’s nonprofit arm, have come up with a new solution. Combining robotics and artificial intelligence (AI), they have created RangerBot, a low-cost, autonomous underwater vehicle capable of hunting down and destroying the starfish.

The technology is so accurate that it correctly identifies COTS in 99% of lab tests, even ignoring 3D printed fakes.

The robot follows a pre-programmed path, patrolling the reef with the help of thrusters. Sonar and cameras ensure it stays close to the reef but doesn’t bump into it and damage its delicate structure.

The robot’s cameras scan for starfish, trained to recognize the distinctive purple colouration, creeping motion and common positions they adopt. Once it detects a COTS, the robot lowers an arm to inject it with bile salts, digesting the starfish from the inside out.

Image: Barrierreef.org

The torpedo-shaped machine can stay underwater three times longer than a human diver, and operate during the night, when it may not be safe for divers but when the starfish are most active.

An urgent mission

Studies show that COTS outbreaks are second only to cyclones in terms of the level of destruction they cause to coral reefs.

Healthy reefs can recover from COTS outbreaks within 10 to 20 years. But combined with other negative impacts of climate change like coral bleaching – when high sea temperatures cause corals to drive out the algae living in their tissues and ultimately starve – the chances of recovery are lower.

Image: Barrierreef.org

Australia’s Great Barrier Reef in particular has suffered from a number of severe COTS outbreaks in recent history, and scientists fear the reef may now be facing a perfect storm of damaging factors that would render it unable to recover. It has seen a 50% decline in coral cover over the last 30 years.

Advertising

Advertising

Advertising

Advertising

Advertising

Advertising

Advertising

Advertising

Advertising

Advertising

Advertising

the European Sting Milestones

Featured Stings

These campaigners want to give a quarter of the UK back to nature

How to build a more resilient and inclusive global system

Stopping antimicrobial resistance would cost just USD 2 per person a year

Better care, stronger laws needed to save 30 million babies on the brink of death

Human rights: breaches in Iran, Saudi Arabia and Sudan

China hopes EU Commissioner De Gucht drops super anti-dumping tariff on solar panels

Paradise islands of Pacific increasingly vulnerable to climate change, as UN boosts resilience

These countries are home to the highest proportion of refugees in the world

COP21 Breaking News_03 December: Argentina Accepts KP Amendment

Top UN official urges Russia and Ukraine to step away from further confrontation at sea

A ‘charismatic leader’ dedicated to making the world a better place for all: officials bid farewell to former UN chief Kofi Annan

Brazil: A strategic partner for the EU

UN committed ‘to support the Libyan people’ as Guterres departs ‘with deep concern and a heavy heart’

The Chinese retail revolution is heading west

Iran: UN rights chief ‘deeply disturbed’ by continuing executions of juvenile offenders

Foreign direct investments the success secrete of Eurozone

Reality Shock

Vaccinations and the movement of anti-vaccers

Europe’s poor investment in digital is threatening prosperity. Here’s what its start-ups need

On European immigration: Europe’s Missing Citizens

Does May have enough time in Parliament to table a soft Brexit deal?

Is there a way out of the next financial crisis? Can more printed money or austerity save us all?

US, Russia oblige each other in Syria and Ukraine selling off allies

The European Sting @ the European Business Summit 2014 – Where European Business and Politics shape the future

The Sichuan Province of China presents its cultural treasure to the EU

2014 will bring more European Union for the big guys and less for the weak

Direction Wakanda: finance methods to make Africa a superhero continent

A hot autumn after a cool summer for Europe

Light at the end of the Eurozone tunnel

How banking with blockchain can stamp out corruption and increase financial inclusion

4 key ways countries can finance their SDG ambitions

Cyprus President urges collective leadership to address ‘root causes’ of world’s crises

Italy and Greece zeroed their fiscal deficits, expect Germany’s response

Who really cares about the 26.2 million of EU jobless?

Strong multilateral institutions key to tackling world’s dramatic challenges, UN chief says In Moscow

From Grexit to Brexit: UK industry now says the in/out referendum is good for your health

May a parody constitute a copyright infringement? European Court of Justice to give the answer

The EU threatens to occupy Libya militarily; is another colonial war brewing?

COP21 Breaking News_09 December: List of Recent Climate Funding Announcements

Lessons from dealing with the collapse of Lehman Brothers

Here are 5 of the biggest threats to our oceans, and how we can solve them

Farmers on the frontline in battle against drug-resistant microbes: UN health agency

High-flyers: China is on top of the world for skyscraper construction

UNICEF delivers medical supplies to Gaza in wake of deadly protests

Japan should reform retirement policies to meet challenge of ageing workforce

How to test if Kiev’s ‘Maidan’ was an authentic revolt or a well-planned operation

World Food Day: here’s what the UN is doing to fix ‘intolerable’ wrong of hunger

UN, Somali Government seek $80 million in immediate relief for flood-affected populations

UN urges ‘maximum restraint’ as Israel-Hamas tensions rise over rocket attack

Tax crimes: MEPs want EU financial police force and financial intelligence unit

Commission Vice-President Rehn exaggerates Eurozone’s growth prospects

UNESCO experts ready to assist reconstruction of iconic Notre Dame, following devastating blaze

Why capital markets have no more reservetions about Eurozone

European Youth Capital 2018 : Cascais

Ahead of key UN-backed Marrakech migration conference, youth recount harrowing journeys

Argentina’s agro-food sector is growing remarkably, but agriculture policies are not keeping pace

Haitian President at General Assembly calls for essential development aid as UN mission shifts away from peacekeeping

Summer 2019 Economic Forecast: Growth clouded by external factors

Yemen talks: Truce agreed over key port city of Hudaydah

From philanthropy to profit: how clean energy is kickstarting sustainable development in East Africa

Draghi hands over to banks €77.7 billion more

Zeid calls for ICC probe into Myanmar Rohingya crisis

More Stings?

Speak your Mind Here

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s