Using ICT in environmental conservation is of course not something new, particularly in the scientific arena. Spreadsheets, databases and Geo Information Systems and the like have been used ever since they became available. However, with sustainability gaining so much more attention, particularly in recent years, and the technical developments that are enabling new business opportunities as well as enabling sustainability to raise to the next level, I was wondering what new and inspiring ideas were taking root in the area of environmental conservation. I was particularly interested in ways ICT may be used ‘on the frontline’ of conservation. So this blog post is by no means the result of extensive research but simply a reflection of my online search and a few inspiring things I came across.

My very first stop was actually what triggered my search. Ever since I went to Namibia for a holiday back in 2009 I have wanted to go back and preferably I was hoping to combine it with an ecovolunteering experience, helping out with conservation efforts that are really making a difference on the ground. My mother has told me many times that when I was a child she was convinced I would become a veterinarian or something because I had often come home with animals in need of help. I didn’t follow my mother’s advice in the end, but she wasn’t altogether that off base because the urge to help out animals is something that is still an instinctual reaction of mine. By the way, some of those animals I took home did survive, despite my lack of skills as a child, but I digress. There are many ecovolunteering possibilities out there, also in Namibia. At one point I came across something called FIT on one of the websites that offers ecolvolunteering opportunities at N/a’an ku sê (avid Animal Planet watchers may recognize this organisation).  FIT stands for Footprint Identification Technique (developed by Wildtrack) and is used to help monitor more elusive animals such as cheetah’s. Analyzing footprints of animals has been done since ancient times. What is different about this tool is that ancient tracking techniques meet modern technology. It uses algorithms that help determine information such as identity, sex and age of the animal without needing actual encounters with the animal beforehand.

I found another intriguing conservation effort using the benefits of ICT in Fujitsu’s Sustainability report of 2012. It outlines their involvement in a Japanese Crane Conservation programme in the Kushiro Wetland Area. Their technology is used to help enhance the conservation research. It uses multi-sensing units that enable remote monitoring of the cranes through the collection and analysis of video data in natural feeding grounds established by the Wild Bird Society of Japan.

Another development that caught my eye is a comprehensive technology driven approach to combat poaching. It was in the news quite prominently about 1,5 month ago. Poaching has been on the rise again dramatically and the poachers themselves have been using more technologically advanced methods using night vision goggles and even helicopters to kill animals such as rhino’s for their ivory. The WWF Google partnership (and others) are now setting up a system using drones, tags, GIS data and wireless communications to provide counterbalance the dramatic rise in poaching.  This partnership was also highlighted on Google’s Global Impact Awards where you can find multiple other initiatives using ICT for good.

Buried information

When the story about FIT triggered my search I must admit that, having realized the potential ICT brings for sustainability, I thought that logically examples of ICT in environmental conservation would be much more abundantly available. But after the above examples I found that most of it is buried a lot deeper and cannot be easily found with a random ‘surfing the web’ search. For instance, Microsoft did not come up initially and when searching their website mainly shows Corporate Responsibility related information focussing on operational business impact. Which of course is very good in itself, but it wasn’t until I used the specifically targeted search terms ‘Microsoft Environmental Conservation’ that I  found examples more along the line I was searching for, such as their involvement with Technology for Nature projects, but it was tucked away in their Microsoft Research site.

I am sure that there are many more examples of direct use of ICT for the benefits of environmental conservation, but it appears that they are not often spotlighted as such. Also, traditionally ICT infrastructure and platforms have been relatively expensive for conservation focussed organisations which has been an obstacle for investments. Now that mobile / big data solutions and other technologies are becoming cheaper and more readily available in the areas where conservation efforts take place most, the next 10 years or so may prove to be a break-through era. I would suggest to up the ante in PR and put it out there!