You Can Help Save Endangered Coral With This Video Game from NASA

published Apr 18, 2020
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A new video game from NASA lets you help preserve coral reefs, by teaching computers to better identify coral species.

The game is called NeMO-Net, short for the Neural Multi-Modal Observation and Training Network. It’s available in the App Store and playable on Apple devices, with an Android version on the way.

Here’s how it works: The game takes you on “dives” on a research vessel called the Nautilus. You’ll see real NASA data, collected on expeditions in Puerto Rico, Guam, American Samoa, and more, and learn about various kinds of coral, which you’ll then identify on your own, earning badges to track your progress.

When you classify coral, you’re really helping the NASA Pleiades supercomputer, housed at Ames Research Center in California’s Silicon Valley, get better at recognizing different coral species on its own.

“The more people who play NeMO-NET, the better the supercomputer’s mapping abilities become,” says a press release from NASA. “Once it has been able to accurately classify corals from low-resolution data included in the game, the supercomputer will be able to map out the world’s corals at an unprecedented resolution. With that map, scientists will better understand what is happening to corals and find ways to preserve them.”

“NeMO-Net leverages the most powerful force on this planet: not a fancy camera or a supercomputer, but people,” said the project’s principal investigator, Ved Chirayath. “Anyone, even a first grader, can play this game and sort through these data to help us map one of the most beautiful forms of life we know of.”

Coral reefs, already damaged by climate change, are important not just for their beauty. According to NASA, they’re also home to as many species as a tropical rainforest, and their organisms have contributed to medicines used to treat HIV, cancer, and more.