Friday, 23 August 2013

Have we solved the world’s biggest garbage problem?

Although it is widely known that our biggest garbage dumps are in fact in the oceans, only recently has serious consideration been given to solve this problem. We take a quick look at the why and how?

For a long time we have been aware that marine litter is harmful to biodiversity and us, primarily due to plastic not biodegrading, and finding its way into the food chain. Further, the tiny particles of plastic which do enter the food chain can soak up toxic chemicals, compounding the risk1.

It seems policy makers have woken up to these very real problems, and at Rio in 2012, a commitment to a “significant reduction” in marine litter by the year 2025 was made2. In Europe, marine litter has been recognised as a main threat to achieving ‘good environmental status’ by 20202. So it seems the stage has been set for real momentum to tackle this big issue, but how might we do that?

Well, a young Dutch student thinks he may have the solution. Boyan Slat, a 19 year old aerospace engineer, has come up with the Ocean Cleanup Array3. The idea involves anchoring ocean sifters to seabed, and letting ocean currents do the rest. The aim would be the filter 7.25 million tons of plastic over a five year period4. However, some potential issues have already been raised, including the hazard to marine biodiversity.

At the end of May we blogged about the Protei project5, another potential solution to the ocean garbage problem. The potential idea here is to combine the developed shape shifting sailing robot with the power of open source technology. Essentially meaning that anyone can pick-up the knowledge from this project and apply it to any suitable problem, including ocean garbage.

What do you think of the Ocean Cleanup Array? Do you think sailing robots might provide the answer? Are there any other potential solutions out there?


NOAA's National Ocean Service Flickr Account - CC by 2.0 

Friday, 16 August 2013

Are we already at the dawn of continuous biodiversity data?

In my May 31st blog, I wrote that the stage seemed to be set for continuous biodiversity data. The first rays of light from this new dawn may already be here.

A recent article1 highlights how technology is already being used to further real time monitoring of biodiversity. The article talks about the Automated Remote Biodiversity Monitoring Network (ARBIMON), and its application in providing decision makers real time biodiversity data. Two things are particularly fascinating about this methodology: 1) that data can be collected in real time across wide areas; and 2) that the data can be collected in real time across a wide breadth of biodiversity.

The ARBIMON project is a fantastic start, using mostly off the shelf products.  Hopefully the best is yet to come though, with others picking up these techniques and refining and finding ways to make the process even cheaper and easier. Just look at history of most technologies, which start as novel techniques, only to be refined and have their costs driven down. After all, the incentive to have real time data to inform management of biodiversity has never been greater, both in terms of the need for the data and also the reduction in funds available to collect and process the data.

Other real time data projects, for example sense-t2, are building on academic research and focusing on commercial challenges. Such applications include in aquaculture, agriculture, forestry and water. Even indirectly, increasing the efficiency of existing operations in these industries may help to alleviate future pressures on biodiversity. However, the hope is that through commercial refining, we might see a real drive in cheaper technology, increasing the potential for use in biodiversity monitoring across the globe.

Are you aware of projects which might help the real time biodiversity data cause? If so, what are they and what are they doing? If not, what would you like to see happen?


lowjumpingfrog Flickr Account - Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic

Friday, 9 August 2013

The power to positively influence development?

The power of the citizen scientist has never been greater. But how great is this power, and can it even extending into influencing positive development practices?

A recent Pensoft article1 highlighted the scientific impacts that citizens and technology are achieving. Specifically, the impact that geo-referenced photographs, uploaded onto online data stores, are having in the scientific world. Not least, confirmation of the existence of an endangered species, fifty years after its first description. But how can increased biodiversity data help facilitate positive impacts for development?

Well, the majority of developments begin with extensive project planning. Usually this involves the choosing between several options, requiring large amounts of data. Decisions can be based on a range of factors, including biodiversity impact. The best developers know that by minimising their impact during the planning stage, they can prevent destruction of important biodiversity and save time and money on expensive remediation and mitigation further down the line.

So how can you help? In order to make the best environmental decisions, everyone involved in developments needs access to the latest biodiversity data. Citizens taking geo-referenced photographs, through online data stores and record centers, are helping to facilitate this, like never before. 


Alison Christine Flickr Account - Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic  

Friday, 2 August 2013

Is conservation truly engaging?

Simply put, conservation efforts depend on winning the hearts and minds of a community, whether local or global. Are the tools available being used effectively?

Is a photograph still worth a 1000 words? It is often said that a visual image delivers a much clearer message to the majority of people, than words alone. Certainly the power of the photograph has long been a mainstay of the charity world to invoke emotion, and you could argue there is no better medium for the job of raising instant awareness and empathy for a cause. The International League of Conservation Photographers1 is an example of an organisation who clearly believes this. By linking with scientists and NGOs, the photographers aim to further environmental and cultural conservation. But are photographs being utilised effectively, and can conservationists learn anything from politics?

During the 2012 American presidential election, social media played a vital role in securing Obama his second term2. Not surprising when you consider one study3 showing that young people are twice as likely to vote if they are politically active online and another that 39% of all American adults participate in online political activism. Ok, so you might ask what politics has to do with conservation. When you consider that both politics and conservation have the same ultimate goal, to cause action in an individual and community, then perhaps it is worth taking note.

Is the photograph still vital to conservation? Is social media being used as effectively as it should be? Is conservation truly engaging?

Our annual photography competition is currently open to amateur photographers, so feel free to check it out:


MapBox Flickr Account - Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic