Tech Innovations are Changing the Conservation Game
Biodiversity loss and climate changes are taking a significant toll on ecosystems across the globe, experts to seek out new methods for protecting nature and wildlife.
Unlike the domains of finance, manufacturing, healthcare and the like, nature and wildlife conservation is often left in the dark when it comes to leveraging advanced technologies. Nevertheless, tech organizations as well as environment experts are working towards real use cases in cloud computing, big data, AI and blockchain and are grabbing the opportunity to preserve and rebuild the environment in innovative ways.
For example, various countries have designated special zones in national parks and wildlife reserves where strict laws are in place to prosecute offenders. However, lack of resources makes tracking illegal activities difficult. National parks often cover thousands of square kilometres, making effective monitoring of all areas difficult. Here, drone technology and surveillance tech can help forest departments dramatically increase the range and effectiveness of their surveillance activities without having to physically deploy people to remote locations.
Some African governments have initiated SMART (Spatial Monitoring and Reporting Tool) to handle the issue of the wildlife trade of various animal species. SMART enables them to gather, analyze, and share data on wildlife, illegal poaching, and conservation, which leads to better targeting of resources. The PAWS (Protection Assistant for Wildlife Security) AI application was also created to predict crimes against wildlife and fisheries.
Another real-time solution comes from the Zoological Society of London, which aims to help spot poaching threats and monitor wildlife behavior remotely. Its Instant Detect system uses low-power sensors, camera traps and acoustic sensors to detect humans and wildlife, while satellite technology sends the data in real time to conservationists studying species or to rangers responding to wildlife crimes. The system has already been trialed in Australia, Canada, Kenya and Tanzania, as well as in Antarctica.
Multiple technologies can be combined to track illegal human activity. The Internet of Things (IoT) has been used by the Connected Conservation Foundation to keep track of endangered populations. Like, monitoring lion and elephant populations with IoT collars is helping wildlife researchers protect endangered ecosystems.
AI is playing a big role in conservation as its biggest strength lies in being able to process the vast amounts of information needed to identify and track the illegal wildlife trade. For example, a program called AI Guardian can recognize images of illegal wildlife products with 75% accuracy.
AI also plays a vital role in detecting or recognizing and keeping the track of wild animals wandering into their natural environment and also helps in preventing the extinction of endangered plants and animals, says environment tech expert Vishal Singh Bisen. And if such animals are kept under observation or tracked by the forest rangers, they can be saved from natural disasters like fires in the forest, floods, and poaching.
Google’s Wildlife Insights can analyze an incredible 3.6 million photos per hour, in its effort to map wildlife around the globe. Likewise, DeepMind is using machine learning to detect, identify, and count animals. DeepMind’s AI analyzes millions of pictures taken at the Serengeti National Park in Tanzania. The machine learning models are trained around the Snapshot Serengeti dataset, which contains approximately 2.65M sequences of camera trap images. Facebook AI Research is also repurposing its DensePose algorithm for conservation efforts.
Cloud based technologies also help expand the technology rapidly without the need to provision, operate, and maintain expensive physical infrastructure. Cloud technology also enables wide-scale accessibility, allowing organizations spread across vast geographical distances to share information quickly and easily. Therefore, it becomes easier to pool resources and capabilities to deliver more significant results in wildlife conservation efforts.
By combining multiple data points and providing the authorities with a single source of truth, data analytics helps wildlife management strategies become more efficient while also providing greater visibility into what’s going on the ground. For example, Google’s Wildlife Insight Project uses AI and cloud technology automatically to process images of wildlife and sensor data, and then to identify animals in images and removing blank images, it aids policymakers with accurate and quality insights.
Many companies are now actively looking for enterprises that can help them incorporate the SDGs into their policies and activities. Grow-Trees.com, for instance, is one such organization that has helped several individuals and businesses in contributing to environmental issues and moving closer to achieving sustainable development goals.
According to Amit Banka, Founder & CEO, Wenaturalists, “The pandemic has opened our eyes to the urgency of redefining our relationship with nature. We need to take active steps to combat the climate and nature crisis now. It’s about restoring the planet with green technologies and processes, sustainable consumption choices, conservation efforts, and most importantly, environmental literacy. We have to come together to drive the change.
A large number of companies can offset their carbon emissions by planting trees. According to a research conducted by the University of Technology, Sydney, employees observed a considerable decrease in stress levels when plants were introduced in their workspace.
Technology is lending a helping hand with big data and automation solutions to preserve nature and wildlife. Governments, international NGOs, and various global organizations are working together with the help of new tools and technologies to address and tackle hazards. However, there are plenty of gaps that need to be addressed. For instance, there are many restrictions and strict laws where tracking and enforcement are not very successful and are limited to a certain degree.
However, a lot more needs to be done. As Liz Greengrass, Born Free’s head of conservation writes in a Guardian article, “While technology is a wonderful tool, none of these technologies work unless the data is acted upon and a legal framework is in place and people are prosecuted. We can facilitate the detection but from there the issues still remain the same.” She urges that while technology may help provide far greater knowledge, governments still need to act fast to bring in the change.