WA Marine Science Institution using Microsoft Azure AI to expedite conservation research for Westport case

The Western Australia Marine Science Institution has joined forces with one of the world’s most comprehensive technology conglomerates to harness the power of artificial intelligence for conservation.

The constantly evolving technology is reaching new heights — or depths, in this instance — as WAMSI uses Microsoft’s Azure AI capabilities to map seagrass meadows in the Cockburn Sound for research that will inform part of the scope and planning of the State Government’s $4 billion Westport development.

The State Government’s flagship container port project, Westport, will be built in the Kwinana Industrial Area to bolster trade in WA for the next century.

But below the surface lives some of the State’s best weapons to combat climate change.

WA is home to the most diverse species of seagrass globally, with 26 species covering about 20,000sqm of ocean floor.

Camera IconSeagrass covers about 20,000sqm of WA’s ocean floor. Credit: Supplied

It’s a crucial player in emissions reduction and can absorb 20 million tonnes of carbon dioxide each year.

Seagrass meadows are breeding grounds for recreationally and commercially meaningful marine life, including blue swimmer crabs, western rock lobster, tailor and whiting.

However, research from Edith Cowan University in 2020 found Australia has lost about 6.2 million tennis courts’ worth of seagrass since the 1950s.

WAMSI chief executive Luke Twomey attributed this to “pollution, poor human practices, and legacy issues”.

Dr Twomey is one of the researchers leading the charge with AI to provide potential management options that encourage seagrass to survive and flourish alongside the Westport development.

University of Western Australia senior lecturer and project lead Renae Hovey said the research would help “fill knowledge gaps” of seafloor ecosystems and equip policymakers with the relevant data for decision-making.

“Understanding the ecosystems will improve environmental impact assessments and natural resource management within the proposed development regions,” Dr Hovey said.

“Leveraging the latest technologies will also enhance the process.”

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