Online game helps NASA classify coral reefs

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Dr. Ved Chirayath, LAS Director in the Earth Science Division at NASA Ames Silicon Valley spoke about the new single-player game called NeMO-Net. (PNC photo)

There is now an online game where players can help the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) classify coral reefs by painting 3D and 2D images of coral. 

In an interview with PNC, Dr. Ved Chirayath, LAS Director in the Earth Science Division at NASA Ames Silicon Valley spoke about the new single-player game called NeMO-Net.

The images in the game were captured in May when Chirayath and other research engineers from the NASA Ames Laboratory for Advanced Sensing launched drones over coastal locations on Guam to capture marine and reef ecosystem data for the maps.

The team used MiDAR and “fluid lensing” technology to study two shallow marine habitats on Guam, namely, the Tumon Bay Marine Preserve and the Piti Bay Marine Preserve.

While explaining the basic features of the game, Chirayath showed a section of the reefs in Tumon Bay, which are rendered in 3D.

“Here you can see some large varieties, structures. These are mounding corals. And we can also see some sea cucumbers, which I believe you call balati. So this shows you the resolution of the system and the challenge we have.”

He added: “So they start out learning what coral is in the game then rank up in the food chain. Right now I’m a puffer fish. You can see my avatar floating around in the background. As I get better, I can become a whale shark.”

In the game,  players can rate the classifications of other players and level up in the food chain as they explore and classify coral reefs and other shallow marine environments. They also get to identify creatures from different locations.

Environmental education, regulations

According to Chirayath, the data sets produced from NeMO-Net can be used in crafting policies and in designing environmental and conservation management plans.

The data will be turned over to University of Guam researchers and other scientists working on coral reef research, conservation, and management.

In terms of practical applications, Chirayath said the tourism industry could benefit from the information generated from the game.

“They (tourism industry) need to know how healthy the reefs are – the types of damage that is occurring to them. In Tumon, there are a lot of tourist traffic just in the grey shallow areas. That is something that can be mitigated by just education…”

According to Dr. Chirayath,  NeMO-Net is just in the beta stage. The full version will be introduced in December.

It will have a feature where players get to hear real scientists talk about corals and marine preservation. He said some of the scientists are from Guam and they will provide information about the issues that the island is facing in terms of coral reef conservation.