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Taming a Sea of Data to Protect the Great Barrier Reef

Taming a Sea of Data to Protect the Great Barrier Reef

How marine scientists are using a sea of data in a ground breaking expedition to save Australia’s endangered Great Barrier Reef.

Huge sections of the Great Barrier Reef, one of the world’s largest living structures, were recently found to be dead — killed by overheated seawater in another indicator of the impact of global climate change. Now thanks to hard work of an expedition of marine scientists, some headway has been made in the coral reef conservation efforts. And perhaps somewhat surprisingly, technology has played a significant part in these efforts. 

In late November 2017, the Great Barrier Reef Legacy (GBR Legacy), a non-profit organization launched a 21 day expedition taking a large team of expert marine scientists into the far northern section of the Great Barrier Reef. The expedition goal was to allow the scientists to better understand and protect the world’s coral reefs by providing an overall reef health assessment and to search for the super coral species that might have made it through the latest heat stress events. GBR Legacy also took an education team and multimedia professionals so that they could deliver the messages direct from the scientist to the general public and reconnect people with our world’s largest living natural icon – the Great Barrier Reef.

“It’s all about identifying how, where and why corals are surviving,” said GBR Legacy’s Dr. Dean Miller, expedition coordinator and director for science and media. “And until we answer some of those fundamental questions, we’re not going to be able to save coral reefs.”

The research team’s data storage requirements were enormous. Each day, its scientists captured in excess of 20,000 high-resolution photos, HD video from underwater drones and hundreds of thousands of data points, along with 4K footage from aerial drones that are used to map the reefs, along with underwater cameras and more. More thank 30km of the reef was mapped during the expedition including 12 new reef sites, and a 12 square km area of the reef which was mapped to a 2cm resolution. Once captured, the team used software to analyse the photographs to confirm the percent of live versus dead coral cover, while other data points that were gathered during underwater scientific data collection were also analysed.  

All of this data had to be stored safely on board the team’s research vessel, allowing the scientists and researchers to view, upload, share and edit data in real time. To meet the high speed, reliability and storage capacity demands, the research vessel was fitted with a 12-bay QNAP TS-1231XU-RP-4G network-attached storage (NAS) system filled with a dozen Seagate’s 12TB IronWolf Pro drives, for a total of 144TB of storage set up in a RAID 6 configuration. 

The GBR Legacy expedition resulted in the discovery of the first new coral species in 30 years; new fish species for the Great Barrier Reef were observed and  the first definitive ‘Super Coral’ species, Acropora tenuis, was found surviving at all reef sites despite of the level of bleaching impact. 

The expedition also redefined how research, education and advocacy can be used for global benefit—and how technology is being used to enable a new level of global collaboration. During the expedition the team delivered science direct from the reef to the public with 24 videos, 20 expedition logs and numerous photos shared to an international audience.

Dr Dean Miller commented: “The GBR Legacy Expedition was the start point of a unique sharing and collaborative project that aims to unite coral reef scientists, conservationists, and researchers from around the world. With so many potential users of the data spread across a range of different organizations, institutions and government agencies globally, the access and security of this data is absolutely paramount. Our research team’s data is now available for online access to any and all interested parties thanks to the Seagate-based data storage system.

“The Great Barrier reef doesn’t just belong to Australia. It belongs to the global population, and everyone should have a stake in its future,” said Dr. Miller.

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