Press Release | Oceanit’s CORAL SHIELD Gains NOAA Support for Enhanced Coral Preservation

Press Release, RiSE, Technology

CORAL SHIELD uses multi-spectral aerial mapping via drones to monitor and protect coral reef systems

  • CORAL SHIELD stands for Carbon-negative Oceanit Reef for Aquatic Life Surveying via Hyperspectral Imaging-Equipped Littoral Drones 
  • Guppy is Our First Hyperspectral Camera Installed in a Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) Drone
  • Coral degradation is a global environmental problem as reef systems face significant threats such as climate change, disease outbreaks and pollution.  

Honolulu, HI, September 14, 2023 – In the ongoing effort to safeguard coral reefs and marine ecosystems from the impacts of climate change, Oceanit’s CORAL SHIELD received support from the National Oceanographic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). NOAA’s support will enable the development of innovative aerial and subsea mapping and monitoring techniques to survey coral species. Oceanit’s first surveying drone, nicknamed Guppy, is an underwater drone platform equipped with hyperspectral cameras. Guppy will be used to conduct field tests of optical systems and AI for classifying, analyzing, and mapping corals.

Coral reefs play a vital role in ocean ecosystems, providing a habitat for diverse marine life and serving as natural barriers along coastlines. However, coral populations worldwide are in significant decline from threats such as warming oceans, bleaching, and other diseases. To safeguard endangered coral species and gain insights into their optimal conditions, scientists currently employ traditional ground-truthing methods, whereby divers conduct on-site surveys. This method, besides being resource-intensive, can be limiting, especially in hazardous underwater conditions and when diving near dangerous terrains.

CORAL SHIELD, short for ‘Carbon-Negative Oceanit Reef for Aquatic Life Surveying via Hyperspectral Imaging-Equipped Littoral Drones,’ will provide a novel and efficient surveying method. It enables scientists to conserve resources and time while obtaining accurate and extensive monitoring data.

CORAL SHIELD will employ UAV and ROV drone platforms equipped with hyperspectral cameras to locate, map, and monitor corals, capturing imagery of the reef and ocean floor. Oceanit’s AI technology then classifies coral species and analyzes their density and health status. The AI is able to generate comprehensive maps from the collected data, not only facilitating coral monitoring but also mapping the locations of endangered species.

Guppy is the first such drone in development, an ROV that applies space exploration imaging technology, first used by NASA for capturing Earth observations to the specific field of coral observations. The hyperspectral data that Guppy captures has the potential to save millions of corals that are vital for supporting marine and coastal ecosystems.

“Rare corals have remained elusive through traditional means, and satellite imagery lacks the resolution needed to identify small populations of endangered species. CORAL SHIELD will be the key to their restoration,” emphasized Dr. Kevin Jim, the lead scientist behind CORAL SHIELD.

This coral mapping will also help Oceanit’s other projects to determine where deteriorating reefs could benefit from biomimetic restoration. A second project, simply dubbed “CORAL,” is exploring the creation of artificial but bio-mimicking reef habitats from carbon-neutral or carbon–negative concrete. This project hopes to restore reefs and promote new coral growth, as well as benefit the marine ecosystems.

As global coral degradation escalates, repercussions extend to the communities reliant on marine resources, tourism, and coastal safety. CORAL SHIELD will accelerate coral research, offering insights into effective preservation measures to secure our oceans’ ecosystems and protect nearshore communities like Hawai’i’s.

“The seed funding provided by the NOAA SBIR Program is critical for driving innovation across NOAA’s weather, water, and climate mission areas,” said Steve Thur, Ph.D., NOAA assistant administrator for Oceanic and Atmospheric Research. “NOAA SBIR awards also support the establishment and growth of small businesses…working on key challenges.” Read the full NOAA announcement here:

About Oceanit

Founded in 1985, Oceanit is a “Mind to Market” company that creates disruptive technology from fundamental science. Utilizing the unique discipline of Intellectual Anarchy, Oceanit reimagines innovation to break the bonds of normal and solve the impossible — delivering technologies to the market that impact humans and society. Oceanit’s diverse teams work across aerospace, healthcare, energy, and industrial/ consumer technologies, as well as on environmental and climate matters.  Through engineering and scientific excellence, Oceanit transforms fundamental science into impactful, market-focused technologies used around the world.