NASA's Online Game Can Help Save the Coral Reefs — and Your Boredom During Quarantine

Move over, Animal Crossing.

NASA NeMO-Net game on a tablet
Photo: NASA/Ames Research Center/Ved Chirayath

NASA is calling on gamers to help map and explore the world’s coral reefs.

In the game, NASA NeMO-Net, players can can help train a NASA supercomputer to learn more about the ocean floor, with the help of real NASA data to identify and classify corals. Players can move across the ocean in their own research vessel, called the Nautilus, picking up and sorting the coral they find as they move.

While each "at-home researcher" is collecting information, NASA’s Pleiades supercomputer learns from their actions. The more coral classifications players make, the more the machine learns to identify and classify coral on its own.

"NeMO-Net leverages the most powerful force on this planet: not a fancy camera or a supercomputer, but people," Ved Chirayath, the principal investigator at NASA’s Ames Research Center, said in a statement earlier this month. "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."

NASA will use the information gathered from the coral reefs to continue research about the changing underwater ecosystem, including rising ocean temperatures, pollution and acidification.

It’s important to preserve the reefs not just for the environment, but for the impact they have on human life. Organisms found in the reefs are known for their medicinal properties. Some, like sponges and mollusks, have been used in medicines to treat viruses and diseases like HIV and cancer.

In addition to helping NASA and learning about the fantastic properties of underwater life, players can earn badges, track their progress and watch videos to learn what really goes on at the bottom of the shallow ocean floor.

NASA’s NeMO-Net is available in the Apple App Store for both iOS and Mac operating systems. NASA plans on releasing a version for Android devices soon.

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