National collaboration to save Australia’s invisible, endangered forest of giant kelp using AI

February 26th, 2024


Tasmania’s giant kelp forest are being decimated by climate change and rising sea temperatures, but a first-of-its-kind partnership aims to provide critical data to the scientists working to restore them.


Google Australia, together with CSIRO, Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies (IMAS), The Nature Conservancy, Great Southern Reef Foundation, and Kelp Forest Alliance, is announcing a new project and partnership to help preserve and restore Australia’s giant kelp forests using Google’s AI.

Declining giant kelp forests

95% of the giant kelp forest in Tasmania has been decimated by climate change and the impact of rising sea temperatures. The first-of-its-kind partnership, part of Google’s $1B Digital Future Initiative, will use AI to map otherwise ‘invisible’ giant kelp and help conduct genomic research to understand what makes some of the kelp heat resistant, aiming to provide critical data to scientists working to restore and grow the forest. Giant kelp forests are one of the Great Southern Reef’s vital ecosystems, providing shelter, food and safe breeding places for a huge variety of marine creatures. This temperate reef straddles five States and is home to fairy penguins, leafy seadragons, blue groper, handfish and other iconic species – and for many, it’s their only home.

Restoring giant kelp with the help of AI

Working alongside NGIS, a leading provider of geospatial solutions and a long standing Google partner, the project will utilise Google Earth Engine and Google Cloud’s AI platform Vertex AI to locate and analyse kelp forests in more than 7,000km2 of satellite imagery for the first time, to provide researchers with a complete picture of these forests.

In addition, CSIRO, IMAS, and Google researchers will use AI to analyse the surviving giant kelp to understand what makes some of it heat resistant. Using two Google AI tools – DeepConsensus and DeepVariant – the partners aim to identify the genetic patterns that lead to heat resistance, allowing scientists to then grow these varieties and ultimately restore our magnificent kelp forests.
In order to enable other research and conservation efforts, we plan to work with our partners to make the geospatial data accessible to the research and conservation community.

Melanie Silva, Managing Director of Google Australia:

“A strong digital future is a future where Australians have the tools and skills to thrive, propel breakthroughs, stay resilient and safeguard the things we treasure for future generations – including the Great Southern Reef.

“To address the biggest challenges of climate change we need to fully understand them. With this project using Google AI we can – for the first time – find and analyse Australia’s disappearing giant kelp forests and support our partners to restore this critical habitat and protect the ecosystem of the Great Southern Reef.”

Prof. Craig Johnnhson, Marine Ecologist at the University of Tasmania’s Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies (IMAS):

“Giant kelp is what we call an ecosystem engineer – a species that creates essential habitats for thousands of other creatures. But as oceans get warmer and 95% of the kelp has disappeared, this is having a disastrous knock-on effect. With the help of Google AI, and the spirit of collaboration between all partners, we’re taking real steps towards restoring these vital kelp forests that previously seemed impossible.”

In addition to the partnership to use AI to identify remnant giant kelp forests and conduct genomics research, Google is also announcing a new Google Arts & Culture collection, capturing underwater forests of the Great Southern Reef and around the world. The new collection is curated in partnership with CSIRO, Great Southern Reef Foundation and Kelp Forest Alliance and allows people to dive into kelp forests with just a few clicks, learn more about their ecology, cultural connections, and the work being done to save them.

Read more about this first-of-its-kind partnership on the Google Australia blog or visit the press site.