20 New and Powerful Conservation Tools
The IUCN World Parks Congress (WPC) is a landmark global forum on protected areas. This year, in Sydney, Australia, from Nov 12 – Nov 19, the Congress convened with a goal of sharing knowledge and innovation, setting the agenda for protected area conservation for the next decade. One category in particular received unanimous agreement for its role in conservation: Technology.
Through the seven days of WPC presentations and showcases, we, two tech-geeks and enthusiastic delegates, explored innovative technologies relevant to the conservation sector. We made a list of the top 20 new and powerful conservation tools that we believe will benefit this sector, now and in the future.
Hosted by: UNEP WCMC
Here’s a simple, useful tool that can be used by any individual in any sector to gain knowledge on biodiversity-related topics. There are four main informational themes that explore—terms, acronyms, areas of biodiversity importance, and marine biodiversity features—with relevant category and sub-category divisions. Biodiversity A-Z is an excellent, one-stop shop for demystifying the language of conservation.
Hosted by: NatureServe
By aggregating existing knowledge and conveying it in a simple visual format, this tool is a powerhouse for conservation management. Developed by NatureServe, it takes databases like the Global Forest Watch, the REDD list, and the WCMC Biodiversity Importance index, and combines them in an interactive map format that can be used for planning on a watershed level. The catch: it’s currently only available for data display of three high-biodiversity areas globally, all of which (no surprise) lie within the tropics.
Hosted by: VIZZUALITY, INC. (“Vizzuality”)
“Interactive maps” is an underrated label for CartoDB. By simply importing data on the web, you can create fancy visuals and share them with your team, sans the need for GIS-knowhow. There is a free version available online, but for all the features and more data capacity, prices ranges from $29/month to $299/month. A highly vital feature of CartoDB is their “Map Academy”, which has free courses online to help you navigate the platform and take complete advantage of its visuals. CartoDB is not just limited to conservation: it can be used for a range of sectors, like banking, business, social network analysis and healthcare.
Hosted by: Google
Here’s one that’s helpful and fun to watch. With Global Fish Watch, a ship-based tool that was originally implemented to keep vessels from crashing at sea can now be used to analyze worldwide fishing patterns! This tool filters satellite data from large ships to create a global map of fishing vessel routes. It can be used by everyone from concerned citizens safeguarding against overfishing to companies proving the legality of their practices. Search by time, by a specific country’s waters, or by an individual ship’s route–that is, as soon as the full public version of this just-revealed program goes live.
Hosted by: The World Resource Institute (WRI)
Global Forest Watch is an online forest monitoring and alert system that provides real-time forest cover data. Simple yet powerful, it is a free tool that uses satellite technology to raise awareness on where and when deforestation is taking place so field staff, managers, and governments can take immediate action. Global Forest Watch is a citizen science tool that has the potential to bring policy changes in the forestry sector, globally.
6. Global Forest Watch Fires/ Firecast
Hosted in partnership convened by the World Resource Institute
In this specific application of the Global Forest Watch technologies, satellites provide eyes in the skies for early fire detection in remote areas. Warnings are quickly conveyed to land managers, who can take action to suppress the burn, if needed. General information is disseminated for free on a daily basis to park managers and firefighters, and can be conveyed through cell phones (if internet is not available). The Firecast satellite information packages also serve as a forecasting system, judging weather patterns to determine if an area may be at risk for a burn.
Hosted by: Google
Google was a star actor at the World Parks Congress, with multiple workshops and information sessions presented every day. In addition to their Google Maps feature, of which most people are already avid users, they have upped their game with Google Earth Engine. This tool allows users to classify Landsat imagery into customized categories which allows not only for data viewing but also for trend analysis before and after decision making, as well as timelapse visualizations. Users do have to sign up, but it’s free and easy to do. Google also introduced other crowd-pleasing platforms such as Open Data Kit, Fusion Tables and Photo Sphere.
Hosted by: BirdLife International, CI, IUCN, UNEP WCMC
Targeted towards businesses, IBAT is an online mapping tool that compiles biodiversity data (including Key Biodiversity Areas and legally protected areas) to identify biodiversity risks. Its end goal: raising capacity for the development of better plans for biodiversity impact management. Data are presented in spatial and tabular formats, with simple mapping functionality.
9. Instant Wild
Hosted by: Zoological Society of London (ZSL)
Like other citizen science conservation apps that are increasing in popularity, this app relies on crowd-sourced identification of photographs of wildlife. The photos are transmitted in real-time by automated remote field cameras, and it boasts 100,000+ images identified to date. It’s also gaining momentum in the anti-poaching sector, with software being developed for magnetic sensors (think intruders with guns) in addition to the current thermal sensors. Currently only available for iPhone users.
Hosted by International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN)
How do you help 217,000+ protected areas keep up the same high standards across the globe? IUCN’s solution—the IUCN Green List—launched at the World Parks Congress. It’s a new, global initiative that celebrates the success of effective protected areas. It encourages the sharing of knowledge so that managers can learn through case study comparisons. IUCN Green List parks are rated on three criteria: 1) recognizing, protecting and managing values important for that area; 2) equitable sharing of the costs and benefits of managing a reserve; and 3) effective management (anything from proper payment of rangers to solid logistical planning). At present, 23 sites have been included, and IUCN plans to expand that list over a range of countries.
Hosted by International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN)
Though founded back in 1964, we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention the IUCN Red List. The IUCN Global Species Programme maintains the information behind this widely-recognized, all-encompassing biological species information source in a centralized database as part of the Species Information Service (SIS). A large extract of the information gathered is made publicly available via this searchable database. The records for all plants, fungi and animals listed in the Red List Categories can be viewed by factors like taxa, habitat, and/or vulnerability status (from “least concerned” to “extinct”). And ArcGIS fans, rejoice! Spatial layers can be downloaded in ESRI Shapefile format.
12. Map of Life
Hosted by: Jetz Lab, Yale University
Biodiversity metadata can now be visually analyzed, thanks to Map of Life. By using a Google Maps platform overlaid with 55 datasets ranging from scientific habitat data to citizen sightings, Map of Life displays multiple means of understanding the location of 970,000+ wildlife species. Search by location to see which animals exist there, or zoom to the range of a chosen species. For those who like to peak behind the scenes, MOL uses multiple cloud platforms, including Google Earth Engine and CartoDB, to keep its gears turning.
Hosted by Birdlife International, CI, IUCN and UNEP-WCMC
Birders, if you’re of the technology-in-nature inclined, then download this app, put your phones on vibrate, and head to the woods. NatureWatch is an iPhone application that provides users with information on Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas (IBAs). It lets users share their experiences of these sites while benefiting the general body of conservation knowledge by being the eyes and ears on the ground. Anyone from an amateur birder to a pro ornithologist can plan an adventure, upload images, and help collect data.
Hosted by: UNEP WCMC
Intended to display a range of datasets related to marine conservation, the Ocean Data Viewer is more of a view-and-download data collection than it is an analysis tool. The data can be divided into subcategories through the Filter tab. It is an easy-to-use website, but limited in the amount of data currently available. Definitely worth a peak for marine managers and enthusiasts.
15. Participatory 3 Dimensional Modelling (P3DM)
Hosted by: Indigenous Peoples of Africa Coordinating Committee (IPACC)
Combine traditional knowledge and scientific research and you have a three dimensional map with the potential of bringing GIS closer to local communities. Essentially based on individuals’ recollections, these models depict land use, land cover, elevation, and other features through the use of everyday materials: push pins for points, yarns for lines, and paint for polygons. Data depicted on the model are extracted, digitized, and plotted, and the model remains with the community. Though changes to the land do mean a whole new map needs to be made, this is an effective visual tool to take to local governments when making a case for community management.
Hosted by Wildlife Conservation Society
Illegal wildlife trade is one of the largest criminal activities in the world. Perpetrators are often funders of international terrorist rings, and the tools to address wildlife crime have had to evolve to match high-tech, complex poaching operations. Enter SMART, the Spatial Monitoring and Reporting Tool. SMART uses free and open-source software to encourage holistic, adaptive management, especially in wildlife crime-effected parks. Coupled with the Cybertracker app, or another GPS-monitoring device, managers can use it to processes both field patrols and intelligence data with a GIS-like incident map interface. This is a step-up from MIST, which has less data conglomeration capabilities but is still used for field work in some parks.
Hosted by: NASA
A decade ago at the 2003 World Parks Congress, NASA asked for advice in how to improve its TerraLook program. Now that program–which gives free access of satellite imagery from Landsat and ASTER to non-scientists who may not be used to remote sensing or GIS—has been updated. Users may compare and save images of interest with relative ease.
Hosted by: Conservation International
With 6+ years of work in 16 sites across 14 countries, and 1,000,000+ categorized photos of wildlife from 1,000+ cameras, TEAM is breaking time barriers to get large amounts of standardized tropical forest data into the hands of decision makers, fast. Their site staff use a large network of cameras to trap photographs, which are later analyzed and uploaded for use along with climate data. All data is publicly accessible at near real time, and can be aggregated to meet the needs of one species or one location.
Hosted by Anglia Ruskin University, BirdLife International, University of Cambridge, rspb, Tropical Biology Association, UNEP WCMC
TESSA is toolkit for rapid assessment of ecosystem services at sites of biodiversity conservation importance. It has been developed for use by local non-specialists, enabling the identification of which ecosystem services may be important at a site, and for evaluating the magnitude of benefits that people obtain from them currently, compared with those expected under alternative land-uses. Copies are available upon request.
Hosted by United Nations Environmental Program World Conservation Monitoring Centre (UNEP- WCMC) and IUCN
As one of the most valuable websites on global conservation, the World Database on Protected Areas (WDPA) is an open access data and mapping tool for the world’s terrestrial and marine protected areas and the world’s species. It holds information on over 200,000 protected areas, and is updated regularly. Only government managed protected areas make the WDPA list, though: community-owned conservancies and privately-owned protected areas are not yet included. That said, they do accept data from any individual or organizations and they provide details about the verifier for cross-reference.
About the Authors: Hasita Bhammar and Nicole Wooten are Masters of Environmental Management graduate students at the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies.