In a recent study, the University of New South Wales (UNSW) and University of Queensland (UQ) used artificial intelligence (AI) to discover global foreshore environments -- the parts of the shore between water and occupied land -- have shrunk in size by up to 16 percent over the past 30 years.
Using machine learning, the universities analysed over 700,000 satellite images to map these changes to foreshore environments.
The mapping process required nearly one million hours of computation and the use of 22,000 machines via the Google Earth Engine, and was conducted alongside Google and the Australian Institute of Marine Science.
Professor Richard Fuller, from UQ's school of biological sciences, said the mapping of these tidal flats is important as they protect more than 625 million people around the world from storms and sea level rises.
"Our research will have significant international benefits, with more than 1.4 billion people expected to live in coastal areas by 2060," he said.
The reduction of these environments -- which includes mudflats, sandflats, or wide rocky reef platforms -- is the byproduct of coastal development and climate change, according to UNSW biological, earth, and environmental sciences research associate Dr Nick Murray.
Due to these two phenomena, according to the study, there has been alarming losses of mangrove, coral reef, seagrass, kelp forest, and coastal marsh ecosystems.
"Our analysis showed that in places like China, where coastal developments in the intertidal zone have been occurring for decades, extensive losses of tidal flats have occurred," Murray explained.
"Meanwhile, sea level rise has been shown to cause the loss of tidal flat ecosystems, particularly where they cannot migrate naturally to accommodate changing sea levels."
As the effects of climate change continue to unfurl, the universities said the findings will lay groundwork for future global coastal monitoring systems used for international conservation and sustainable development purposes.
"A system like this could enable scientists, governments and the wider community to take stock of the services that coastal ecosystems provide," Murray said.