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Source: CNN
CNN’s Call To Earth – CNN’s Call to Earth meets the researchers and scientists using advanced technology to regrow and restore the kelp forests of the Great Southern Reef.

Australia’s Great Southern Reef is an over-8000-kilometre-long temperate ecosystem that wraps around the country’s southern coastline. Marine Ecologist Scott Bennett says, “We have immense diversity that we just don’t find anywhere on earth. 70-80% of species that we find on our reef here are unique to the Great Southern Reef, they’re not found anywhere else.”

The giant kelp anchors this environment, building and nourishing an underwater forest which has all but disappeared in Tasmanian waters. This issue has scientists concerned. Scott Bennett tells CNN, “In Tasmania we’ve lost around 95% of our giant kelp forests over the last five decades, failing squarely because of climate change.”

Bennett hopes that the remaining kelp will help in protecting its future, “We’ve had that strong selection pressure from marine heatwaves and warming over the past five decades. So, those 5% that remain have been through a lot already, and its our hope that the resilience in that remaining 5% hold the key.”

At Australia’s state science agency, the CSIRO, Anusuya Willis, Director of the Australian National Algae Culture Collection, and her team have identified the genetic markers that may make kelp more resilient to climate change. She explains, “We’re trying to understand through genomics what it is about those individuals that allows them to withstand these warmer temperatures. And then we will take those individuals and, in the lab, we will breed new kelp that carry that trait of thermal tolerance.”

The sheer size of the Great Southern Reef makes it difficult to determine exactly where the strength of kelp is most needed. “We don’t have a baseline and you cannot protect what you can’t measure,” says Leah Kaplan, APAC Sustainability Business Lead at Google Cloud.

Google’s geospatial technology is creating the first ever map of Australia’s giant kelp forest. Researchers will then use the company’s AI tools to analyse the kelp that has survived. Google Australia is working alongside the CSIRO, equipping the scientists with this new technology. Kaplan states, “For this project, we’re analysing 7000 square kilometres of satellite imagery which just would have been incredibly difficult to do with traditional computers.”

Augmenting human intervention with AI gives the scientists a better chance of saving the giant kelp. Bennett concludes, “There is no natural regeneration anymore. Unless there’s human intervention into the restoration, it will be lost.”

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