New conservation partnership wants Kiwis to count, identify fish

A snapper, one of the species that could be helped by a new website.
New website invites Kiwis to help save New Zealand's fish, like the snapper. Photo credit: Getty

The phrases 'artificial intelligence' and 'machine learning' may conjure up images of a robot apocalypse, but a new Kiwi partnership is hoping to harness the power of both to help identify at-risk fish species.

Spyfish Aotearoa, a collaboration between Wildlife.AI - a charitable organisation applying artificial intelligence to conservation - and the Department of Conservation (DoC), allows ocean enthusiasts to get directly involved in scientific research.

By analysing 10-second video clips on the Spyfish website, all taken from monitoring surveys DoC undertakes each year in New Zealand's marine reserves, volunteers can identify and count the species of fish they see.

And if you're not over familiar with our native fauna, there is a chat function available to connect with the experts who are.

"The surveys let us estimate how abundant some types of fish are in our reserves, such as blue cod, snapper, some species of sharks, and many more," says DoC Technical Advisor Monique Ladds.

"It's a way to tell how well our marine reserves are doing at protecting these species.

"However, identifying and counting species in the videos is time-consuming, especially for a single person."

DoC intern Hiromi Beran and Wildlife.AI General Manager Victor Anton built Spyfish Aotearoa over the summer and finalised it in the first half of 2021.

"It's been fantastic seeing the project come together," says Beran. "People really get into it. It's essentially a fun, extremely helpful game."

Spyfish Aotearoa is also being used to train artificial intelligence software so in the future videos can be automatically analysed to identify and count the species.

"Using machine learning will save a huge amount of time and resources, and produce data that can be used almost immediately," says Anton.

"Making the most of the opportunities provided by artificial intelligence will greatly improve marine conservation outcomes for the future and bring us further along in the path towards thriving oceans.

"And along the way people in Aotearoa and overseas will be able to see and learn more about the species in our marine reserves, while contributing directly to marine conservation," says Beran.

You can join in the conservation efforts via the Spyfish Aotearoa website