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Marine and wildlife conservation initiatives rely on IoT to protect endangered species

Many of the most popular commercial applications in IoT have introduced capabilities that are finding applications in conservation and are being used to help to protect and manage marine and wildlife populations. Now-mature technologies such as wireless sensor networks and GPS-enabled monitoring can easily be adopted to track animals and to foster better understanding of animal behaviours. In extreme situations IoT can be a contributor to the securing the safety of endangered species that face threats from poachers.

The number of endangered species on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species continues to grow, with more than 38,500 species threatened with extinction. To turn the tide, conservation organizations are tracking and monitoring populations and seeking to protect their habitats and the ecosystems that support life. The key to this is timely data and cost-effective means of data collection, both of which are IoT strengths.

Many marine and wildlife conservation projects have similar characteristics. They typically need to track animals over wide areas, they need to be able to access networks easily and they need to require minimal maintenance. In addition, most projects are typically charity or government-run and therefore costs need to be minimized.

Network coverage has improved radically but many endangered species live in remote areas that are not well-served by cellular networks. Depending on the type of wildlife, it may be possible to operate a sensor network over a relatively large area by setting up a low power wide area (LPWA) network but this may be challenging for unskilled teams on the ground and it may not provide the range to address populations that migrate over large distances. GPS is therefore often utilized for tracking applications and this can be done in conjunction with a cellular network to upload data later.

If you think of tracking large fish in the oceans, GPS provides a cost effective means to track dolphins or whales and recent advances have added sensor capabilities and improved battery life to enable richer data to be reported and deployment timescales to be longer. However, this is only the start. As IoT continues to develop, sensor networks will be able to offer better monitoring and become cheaper and smaller, opening up opportunities to gain data about smaller animals. Advances in artificial intelligence will enable richer insights to be extracted from the data gathered.

There is huge potential to harness the power of IoT solutions to improve marine and wildlife conservation projects. The early successes of counting and tracking populations provide a foundation on which artificial intelligence allied to adjacent technologies such as biometrics will be able to monitor populations without the need for human intervention. Biometric recognition at a waterhole, for example, can recognize which species are in the area and provide data on the number of each type of animal in the area.

With 5G poised to roll-out – although not everywhere – and enable real-time video over vast landscapes, the tools available to conservation organizations will be able to do more. Cameras will be able to be set up to cover habitats and utilize AI to record important data and these, allied to sensor networks, will be able to provide data on food and water availability, presence of predators and even health data such as noting instances of malnutrition or injury.

Marine and wildlife conservation is just one aspect in which IoT is having a significant social impact and we are looking forward to hearing about more projects in this and other areas from organizations that enter the IoT Social Impact Award. To enter your project, simply visit: iotsocialimpact.com and submit your entry.

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