Coral Networking

Any time that coral reefs are in the news these days, it’s usually not for a good reason. We know what is happening, we know what is causing it, and we know that more corals could have been saved if humanity had acted sooner. Many academics and innovators are trying to come up with ways to save coral reefs, such as my colleague Simon Donner at UBC, who travels around the world studying coral reef health. Strong research depends on a solid dataset alongside a deep understanding of the current state of reefs around the globe, and that’s where CoralNet‘s innovation becomes incredibly useful.

CoralNet exists to fill a vital need for research and data processing. Coral reefs are meticulously surveyed for information on their overall health and coverage, however, the sheer volume of data combined with its short lifespan means that researchers are often strained to process the data quickly and accurately to make it usable. CoralNet is a software platform where researchers can import their data (CoralNet encourages all data to be made public to the rest of the research community) and apply machine learning to annotate images, which automates the process of adding metadata to images of coral reefs. Users choose labels to be applied to the images, which can be created from scratch or borrowed from other CoralNet users. Once users have annotated a handful of images, CoralNet learns what to look for and can annotate images with a comparable degree of accuracy. Data is processed and rendered usable faster, saving valuable time in the process.

Beyond providing a mechanism to analyze data, CoralNet has evolved to be an individual network that acts as a data repository and collaborative tool for researchers, which genuinely complements the spirit of CoralNet. Users are encouraged to make their data public, share the labels they used for annotation, and use the platform to connect with other researchers working on similar projects. We are all concerned about coral reefs, especially since saving them seems to be such a complicated battle. CoralNet makes it easier for researchers to do their important work in preserving these hotbeds of biodiversity by providing a haven for the concerned and optimistic alike.


CoralNet. (2020). About CoralNet.

Photo by Courtenay Crane