Beauty equals health for coral reefs: study finds
Scientists have discovered a beautiful reef is also a healthy reef. A new paper has found the healthiest corals are also aesthetically the most beautiful.
A new paper has found the healthiest corals are also aesthetically the most beautiful.
The study used computers to rate the 'beauty' of photographs of coral reefs, based on 109 visual features such as colour and light.
The new method offers an inexpensive way to measure the health of reefs, of great benefit to nations in the Pacific such as Kiribati.
Bridget Grace began by asking Senior Author, Dr Forest Rohwer about the unique mix of maths, biology and art history researchers on the study.
Dr Forest Rohwer: It is a little unusual but that's mostly how a lot of science is going nowadays. Much of what we do, not just across my lab, but across a whole bunch of disciplines nowadays requires a large team because we're getting to very complicated things.
Bridget Grace: I understand this study was focusing on computing aesthetics, but how can computers rate the beauty of a photograph?
FR: It itself is not determining whether it would be beautiful to a person or not, what it's doing is its just being a computer, it's just going through and saying well is this photo more textured or does this photo have more of a particular type of colour or things of that nature. The computer will use all of those pieces of information and then say ok, this is what we would normally score as aesthetically pleasing. What the computer is doing is quite different than what the human brain is doing but they converge on the same answer. The computer is getting there in a different way, it actually is picking up on things that the human brain is doing kinda automatically. So what's nice about it, from a scientific point of view, is we're not dependent on any one particular person's brain to make the decision, which is really valuable.
BG: What were the findings of the study?
FR: What we really found actually works really well. In the sense of, if you wanted to know is your coral reef aesthetically pleasing, so basically beautiful, the computer picks that out very strongly. And the reason why that's important, is one, people should be able to just take a set of photos, compare them, on the same scale and say is this reef aesthetically pleasing and where does that appear to be relative to health on other reefs around the world.
BG: What are the practical applications of these findings, how useful are they?
FR: One thing is that the way that we measure coral reef health is very complicated actually. And this opens the possibly of just using a set of photographs to do it. We don't know if that's 100 percent true as we'll have to do it on a lot more reefs, and we'll have to see what a lot of people find along these lines.
BG: How could countries use these findings?
FR: The Kiribati people have some of the world's nicest reefs. And they've done a really great job, even though they are an extremely poor country coming up with ways of trying to preserve them. Hopefully things like this give them more rationale when they go and talk to people about well we should preserve these reefs because they are actually so exceptional.
BG: People could take photos, they could use that as an inexpensive method of monitoring?
FR: Yeah that's what we're really hoping. I would be a little cautious, but I'll bet you in the end it does work. And that not only would it be inexpensive but it would also be much less bias than any of the methods we use right now.
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