Some may blame our obsession with technology as a core cause of the environmental destruction we've caused, from pollution to excessive waste to overfishing and more. They wouldn't be entirely off base. However, technology can also do a great deal of good when it comes to saving the environment and the species living on this planet. Here are five of the smartest ideas we've seen that put technology to work for endangered species.
1. New Software Saves Endangered Zebras By Analyzing People
The Grevy's zebra is highly endangered, with only some 2,500 left in the wild. Figuring out the best routes for conservation efforts can be difficult, but IBM thinks it has come up with a software-based solution. IBM has created a new predictive analytics software that Marwell Wildlife can use to collect huge amounts of complex information -- such as what herdsmen think about the zebras, where the animals are located, why they hunt them, how everything from education level to access to medicines impacts their decisions -- and figure out the best areas to focus conservation efforts. This high-tech software might be a big key to saving the Grevy's zebra.
2. Using "Fish & Chips" Tagging Technology to Save Endangered Bluefin Tuna
Without a doubt, technology has been the root of our ability to overfish the oceans. We're more capable than ever of finding where fish are located, rounding them up, pulling them on board, and even processing the fish on floating factories. Fish don't stand a chance against us and our technology. Or do they?
Barbara Block, who works out of Stanford's Hopkins Marine Station and in conjunction with the Monterey Bay Aquarium, is part of an important project of tagging bluefin tuna and tracking them up and down the Atlantic ocean in an effort to save them from going extinct at the hands of hungry sushi lovers. By tagging these fish and tracking them, we're able to see patterns from migration to spawning and decide how fisheries can best manage themselves so that bluefin tuna survive and hopefully even recover in numbers. You can watch her TED talk here:
3. Can Robotic Deer Used To Catch Poachers Be Scaled Up for Endangered Species?
Here is an idea that is not necessarily saving endangered animals right now, but it could be. Robotic deer have been used for some time in catching poachers taking aim at deer outside of hunting season. They've been highly effective too. Indeed, wildlife officials note that poachers are becoming more wary not only because they might get arrested, but because if they're caught they'll be humiliated for being so lame as to shoot at a deer from the road. If it's that effective at catching poachers in the act, I'm curious about how effective robotic decoys can be for other species that are impacted by poaching. There could even be a camera in the decoy so that the faces or other identifying information about the poachers is transmitted to nearby wildlife officers staked out at a safer distance. While there are obvious difficulties in terms of expense and maintenance, a robotic version of an elephant or tiger could be successful.
4. Scientists Track Origins of Shark Fins Using DNA "Zip Codes"
Hunting sharks for their fins is resulting in the disappearance of one of the most important animals of the ocean. Sharks are apex predators needed for keeping ecosystems healthy. Similar to wolves, they pick off the sick and injured and therefore keep their prey species strong. The more abundant sharks are, the healthier an ecosystem. Yet shark fin soup and other products mean the death of some 80 million or more sharks every year, and tracking where these shark fins came from is nearly impossible. Until now, that is.
A team of scientists led by the university's Institute for Ocean Conservation Science has figured out that dusky sharks and copper sharks -- both heavily hunted for their fins, with the dusky shark species classified as threatened by the IUCN -- have distinct populations living along different areas of coastlines. By looking closely at the "zip code" embedded in the DNA of the fin, the researchers can pinpoint from which population that shark came, and therefore get a step closer to finding out who is exploiting the species. Because different shark species have varying habits for birthing and traveling, it is not necessarily possible for this strategy work across the board for sharks and tracking down the origin of fins. However, for specific species that tend to stay in certain areas as a distinct population, the new research presents a flicker of hope.
5. Barcoding DNA to Save Species on the Brink
Barcoding the DNA of animals across the globe could protect them from illegal poaching or over-hunting. The International Barcode of Life project is assigning a barcode to each individual species' unique DNA so that one day, anyone with a special scanner can read the DNA and know exactly what species they're dealing with. From fish-mongers' stalls to the distribution of an endangered species, the new database may be able to save species and keep a watch on our food supplies. The iBOL calls itself the "largest biodiversity genomics initiative ever undertaken" and its online, open-access database of every single living thing on earth could be the key to knowing exactly what it is we're seeing on market shelves.
Already over 87,000 species have been barcoded within the non-profit project. Over 25 countries are involved in helping build up the database, and the project expects that by the end of the first phase in 2015, over half a million species will be part of the Barcode of Life Data System. By keeping track of animal products in such a way, we can help enforce laws about the selling and trade of certain species, and therefore save that species from extinction.
These are just a handful of ways scientists and researchers are using technology to help improve our understanding of endangered species and therefore improve our conservation efforts. From critter cams to smart collars, technology can prove itself and ally to animals.