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Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership (CISL)

August 2020: Pairing artificial reefs with AI monitoring technology may support the restoration and protection of marine habitats. It could increase fish abundance and strengthen coastal protection in degraded ecosystems. Such approaches could be expanded to shipwrecks, wind turbine cables, or decommissioned oil and gas rigs.


According to a report released in early 2020 by WWF, damages to ecosystems such as forests, grasslands, and coral reefs could drain nearly $10tn from the global economy by 2050, which excludes any impacts from the pandemic. As efforts to curb biodiversity loss become more prominent, many researchers turn to the use of AI, particularly to amplify efforts to protect, restore, and nurture reefs and mangroves. For example, AI has been used in a Philippines-based project to monitor impacts on marine life from restoring reefs which were heavily degraded by dynamite fishing. Pairing the use of artificial reefs with AI monitoring, such as deep learning algorithms for remote sensors allows the researchers to adjust the reef to allow for optimal migration patterns based on real life, large datasets. Applications for such algorithms in AI monitors range from pre-processing to mapping and include image fusion, image registration, scene classification, object detection, land use and land cover, segmentation, and object-based image analysis.

Implications and opportunities

Humanmade reefs paired with advanced AI monitoring technology can support the restoration and protection of natural marine habitats. Such projects aim to build resilience of marine habitats and often increase fish abundance in reefs and estuaries for the benefit of recreational fishing and estuarine restoration of urbanised estuaries. In addition, artificial reefs can support the protection of coast lines from floods and other natural disasters. Healthy marine ecosystems can store large amounts of carbon which could help offset carbon emissions and accelerate the transition to a net zero economy. By replacing human divers with deep learning AI monitors to collect data and monitor fish, it increases data accuracy and frequency, while reducing time costs and potential interference of divers with marine life. Similar projects could be expanded to include shipwrecks, wind turbine cable and offshore oil and gas rigs. Such projects may be of particular interest to the oil and gas industry in the North Sea where substantial decommissioning of rigs is approaching.


Converting artificial structures into artificial reefs serves as proof of concept, however, any marine habitat conservation project requires careful adaptation to local contexts and any AI monitors will require careful adjustments and programming to project specific parameters.  


Folpp, H. R., (2020). Artificial reefs increase fish abundance in habitat‐limited estuaries. Journal of Applied Ecology. doi:10.1111/1365-2664.13666 

Green, A., (2020). Tech knowhow gives new lease of life to marine habitats. Retrieved from