At COP28, there was an urgent call to put nature and biodiversity loss at the heart of climate action. Stakeholders all over the world are seeing a renewed focus on protecting biodiversity. This is especially so in Southeast Asia, which is considered one of the most vulnerable regions to climate change impacts globally that have adversely impacted biodiversity.

In conjunction with International Day for Biological Diversity on May 22, I am reminded of the stark reality confronting the loss of biodiversity at the expense of climate change. Biodiversity conservation can be the catalyst of change; especially in our field, we have a duty to show how technology and tools can accelerate and enhance efforts. In line with the global targets outlined in the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework, technology leaders must champion the strengthening of capacity-building and development, access to and transfer of technology, and the development of and access to innovation and technical and scientific cooperation.

Thus, the impetus is for actors to find the right technology for deployment as well as partners for collaboration, to push the needle on biodiversity conservation action.

Technology – a catalyst in accelerating biodiversity conservation

Innovators are already building on existing technology to rapidly design new solutions to slow or reverse the damage human activities have caused to natural ecosystems. From energy-efficient conservation robots that can monitor and record environmental data, to drones that record and map radiation levels, there’s a lot that technology can offer in the fight to preserve biodiversity.

We’re already starting to see cross-industry collaborations put new technologies to work to accelerate biodiversity preservation and restoration. Tēnaka, for example, is a social business that works to restore and protect marine ecosystems worldwide. They have partnered with our international colleagues to scale the coral reef restoration in a Marine Protected Area of the Coral Triangle in Malaysia. This coral reef restoration project is helping to protect and preserve critically important and endangered wildlife while supporting the economic independence of coastal communities in terms of food security and employment linked to tourism and fisheries.

Through our technology partnership, Tēnaka has been able to accelerate digital transformation, making its day-to-day operations more efficient. Our experts are providing Tēnaka access to fully automated data sets, from collection to visualization, leveraging AI-based data analysis. This near real-time data-driven approach enhances the capabilities of Tēnaka’s operations. Data and images are transmitted via 4G connectivity once a day for energy conservation and are directly delivered to scientists ashore for 24/7 access to data, allowing them to spend more time restoring degrading coral reefs.

Just as technology brings to commercial enterprises the benefits of cost savings, productivity, and efficiency, it can also bring the same benefits to conservation teams, who are often under-resourced on many fronts. Referencing the Tēnaka partnership as a case study, I see four main areas where technology can help resource-starved conservation units.

#1: Cost- and resource-effective access to the fundamentals of conservation – research, analysis, monitoring

Nature conservation involves a complex and diverse array of data. Smarter tech, such as artificial intelligence (AI), 5G, cloud, big data, and the Internet of Things, can allow scientists to monitor animals, plants, and their habitats to protect them from increasing natural and man-made pressures. Technology solutions can lift the burden of carrying out tasks that are essential for conservation but are cost-prohibitive to do manually, such as automatically monitoring wildlife habitats on the landscape scale and tracking individual species on a granular level.

Using the collaboration with Tēnaka as an example, scientists and conservationists have been empowered by technology to access a near real-time data-driven approach that increases the knowledge around restored coral ecosystems as well as enhance the capabilities of the team’s operations. Data and images of the coral ecosystems are delivered directly to scientists ashore, allowing researchers, or even anyone, with 24/7 access which allows them to focus more on restoring degrading coral reefs.

Central to this is the use of cloud computing solutions as it not just facilitates the storage of images retrieved, but also processes it in real-time thanks to its compute power – an endeavor that would be extremely laborious if done manually. Also embedded within this system is an alerting feature that will be generated based on certain conditions, such as species that may be harmful to corals by eating them. Hence this alert allows for immediate action by the scientists to mitigate any impact to the reefs’ health.

Cloud computing solutions also make sense from a cost standpoint as they eliminate the need for data storage hardware. As a result, conservation teams can make do without the purchase of heavy equipment and can also flexibly scale their computing services as required.

#2: Minimizing disruptions to the surrounding biodiversity

Considering the already fragile state of the environment, any invasive, incompatible approach could significantly aggravate the status of the ecosystem. Any conservation efforts must cause as minimal damage as possible to the host environment. Leveraging 5G, AI, and robotics can aid in species tracking while minimizing disruptions to the surrounding biodiversity, through testing, iterating, and prototyping.

The Tēnaka project is enabled by a Yucca lab marine research station composed of an underwater monitoring device, with waterproof 360° cameras attached to a solar-powered floating buoy with processing and transmission capabilities. In the past, someone had to manually retrieve the content periodically, causing disruptions to the natural habitat. Today, the research station connects to the local 4G mobile network with a SIM card, allowing a connection that transfers images daily to the cloud.

Once in the cloud, a bespoke AI algorithm analyzes the images. This algorithm automatically recognizes and quantifies 17 species of fish, invertebrates, and megafauna in the reefs. All this is done without any intrusion or invasiveness on the biodiversity.

#3: Transformation, making day-to-day operations more efficient

Diving underwater, photographing, and manually documenting each time can be tedious and time-consuming and may not always be accurate as compared to a 24/7 underwater tool that captures visuals every 30 seconds, for 12 hours a day.

Technology and AI can help resource-poor conservationists improve their efficiency by automating tedious tasks, such as data entry and processing – considering the time-sensitive nature of the need for biodiversity conservation action, this gives a great boost in helping to achieve goals faster with much less strain.

The right technology with scalable, agile, and sustainable infrastructure can ensure security, performance, and resilience to meet business imperatives and handle the growing amount of distributed data traffic. It can also reduce the time to deploy or update mission-critical applications, and 24/7 accessibility (in this case, a 24/7 accessibility means real-time info anywhere, anytime for scientists who need to pull up some info immediately). Purpose-fit technology solutions can improve operational efficiency by delegating time-consuming jobs to managed services.

Our engineers have also been working with conservationists to focus their resources on more strategic activities, such as developing innovative programs and reaching more beneficiaries. With tailored technology solutions, Tēnaka’s conservation teams can eliminate the need for extra manpower to dive into the oceans to gather data – before the introduction of such technology, Tēnaka’s field marine biologist needed to dive into the restored areas and go through a visual identification and quantification of fish, invertebrates, and mega-fauna.

Collaboration for greater impact

The multiplier effect of technology collaboration and partnership cannot be understated. In the case of the Tēnaka project, our teams worked with other industry leaders (Microsoft and Netskope) to not only facilitate the transfer of images, but to also do so securely. Tapping on the strengths of partners can help to banish blind spots while also reducing the time taken to deploy or update mission-critical applications.

When harnessed ethically and inclusively, technology can be a catalyst for conserving the rich global biodiversity that we have been entrusted to safeguard. Working with a partner who has expertise across every IT touchpoint of the value chain and who understands trusted data will be crucial.

From the Tēnaka project, it gives me hope that we can have a framework for responsible innovation moving forward, which harnesses the power of technology and AI for social good that makes us a part of the solution and not just contribute to more problems. With time no longer a luxury we can afford, the sooner we can all rally together to protect what we have, the better.

Tuan Le is the Managing Director, Orange Business ASEAN, Japan and Korea.

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