Reef Support in Cape Town: Our experience at the 2021 Ocean Innovation Africa


Written by Yohan Runhaar


On the weekend of the 5th of Friday to Sunday the 7th, Reef Support was invited to take place in the Ocean Innovation Africa event in Cape Town, South Africa, as an exhibitor and challenge owner. The event showcased African initiatives and brought together international entrepreneurs, investors, scientists, businesses and leaders that are working towards creating a positive impact on our Oceans. Marcel Kempers, our CEO, and Yohan Runhaar, our CTO, represented Reef Support and were able to share our initiative on our very own booth during the conference. Furthermore, together with OceanHub Africa, the hosts of the event, we presented one of the challenges part of the Ocean Hackathon®.

OceanHub Africa’s vision to “Be the movement that inspires more ocean-conscious entrepreneurs and form the tribe that demonstrates the commercial viability of an ocean-minded economy” aligned with our vision and inspired us to form a contact with the organization. This led to Reef Support being invited to the event by the inspiring organization.


This year’s Ocean innovation summit was the first time an African city participated in the created in 2015 by Campus mondial de la mer and endorsed as a Decade Activity by the United Nations Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development. The 48 hours non-stop event challenges developers, engineers and scientist to come together and develop a prototype and to think about its use, using various digital data related to our oceans. Thanks to OceanHub Africa, we were one of the 3 challenge owners for the Ocean Hackathon Africa event. Over 48 hours, we challenged computer vision expert and marine biologist to come together use image data alongside tabular data to define certain metrics in coral reef images.

The first of the two other challenge owners was Savelocal, a hashtag-based donations app that allows users to support local charities, non-profits, and conservation projects by simply tagging #savelocal in their posts & stories. The company will donate from your bank account a fixed amount to the conservation project that is closest to where the pictures were taken. The second initiative, Soso Care, is a leading emerging micro mobile health insurance start-up in Nigeria using innovative approach to bring health insurance to millions of people who never had it before by enabling them to pay for a health insurance with recyclable waste in. The winning team would have the chance to go to Brest in France to pitch their implementation against other winning ones of the 13 other hosts.


Our wonderful team for the challenge came together for the first time on Friday evening, after the day conference had ended: (from left to right) Samuel Sendzul, Benjamin Sturgeon, Nomvula Mpungose and Johannes Mphaka. The team started off brainstorming on how to tackle the challenge and quickly came up with the solution to solving the problem with a multi model classification pipeline. This solution was inspired of Johaness’s previous approach to the Zindi proposed challenge for the pretraining to the hackathon. Zindi was the main sponsor for our Coral AI challenge and proposed a challenge inspired on our initiative on a smaller data subset: use machine learning to identify the type of coral in an image and whether it is healthy or not. Johaness won the competition by using a multi model implementation.

On Saturday, the team spent the day implementing their approach by finetuning the dataset on pre-trained models (EfficientNet and the transformer based Google vit model) in order to classify cropped patches of the images into subsets of the labels over different models: a first model classifies whether the cropped patch is an algae, a coral, an invertebrate or something else; if the model classifies it as a coral, then a second model classifies whether the cropped patch is a soft or hard coral. Next to this, the team also started implementing a simple UI using Voila, a library to convert a Jupyter Notebook into an interactive dashboard.

On Sunday, the team spent the day refining their implementation and prepare their presentation in order to present their solution in front of the jury of experts. Team Coral AI was first up for the presentations! Benjamin held the presentation and Samuel took care of the demo. After our awesome presentation and the wonderful implementations of the other teams, the jury took some time for deliberation for us to get the final results. Everyone was on the edge, hoping to win the first place and have a chance to go to France!

Finally the results were in… Soso Care! Yes, unfortunately we did not win and ended up second. We cannot be prouder of our team, their kindness and how amazing they performed during the 48 hours of the challenge! Reef Support draws sustainable value from community events such as this Hackathon and this time it was amazing to see the talent from Cape Town and what teams can build together. We were so impressed that we have decided to keep contact with the Coral AI team members closely with the Reef support development team, to improve on and polish the basic models created in these grueling 48hrs. They came up with a great implementation that Yohan and our AI intern Ndivhuwo Nyase, who happens to also be from South Africa, will build upon. So keep a lookout soon as it will be featured on our dedicated marine AI solutions platform,


Marcel and Yohan had an amazing time at the Ocean Innovation Africa summit and made the necessary connections to finally start our long awaited chapter in Africa! This would not have been possible without the amazing organization by OceanHub Africa as well as their kindness to fly us to Cape Town.

We would also like to congratulate Soso Care on winning the hackathon and wish the best of luck to them as well as the awesome people at Savelocal. Both initiatives are really amazing and we urge all of you readers to check them out!

Thank you to all the sponsors of the event, especially Zindi for funding the Coral AI hackathon! Finally, thank you to Pieter Boon, founder of Cape AI, an innovative Dutch-South African based company, for meeting us for lunch and showing us around the V&A Waterfront.

Finally, thank you to all of you at home, reading this blog, and supporting us at Reef Support on our journey to help the blue economy through innovation. Hope you had a good read!

Written by Yohan Runhaar - 23/11/2021