Holographic cameras could give advanced warning of sea lice near salmon farms

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A team of researchers in Scotland is exploring the use of holographic 3D imaging, machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI) to detect the presence of microscopic sea lice larvae near fish farms.

Using advanced underwater holographic cameras – developed at the University of Aberdeen – and AI-based automated image identification technology, the system would enable researchers to identify the abundance of sea lice in the ocean, while also assisting fish farmers with rapid sea lice detection and effective management at Scottish salmon farms. Currently, the most common way of testing for the parasite is to collect water samples to be analysed in a lab under a microscope, which can take several days to return results.

Compared to standard cameras and 2D photography, digital holography has significant advantages when used for microorganisms. The holographic camera can instantaneously record a volume of water and extract high-resolution images of the various particles present in the water. One hologram, therefore, can provide a set of data equivalent to thousands of standard photographic images.

Identifying sea lice from other zooplankton species has previously been compared to looking for a needle in a haystack, so the researchers will use AI to help tackle this. The system will be trained with thousands of holographic images of sea lice, recorded in the lab at the Scottish Association for Marine Science (SAMS), to support the process of identifying sea lice when the tool is deployed.

The project is being led by experts in engineering and digital holography from the University of Aberdeen, alongside SAMS, and recently received a funding boost of over £538,000 from partners including the UK Seafood Innovation Fund (SIF) and the Sustainable Aquaculture Innovation Centre (SAIC).

Electronics business Hi-Z 3D, seafood producer Mowi, the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) and the Scottish Government’s Marine Directorate are also supporting the initiative.

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