Conservationists Leverage Advances in Technology to Overcome Challenges of COVID-19
Seattle, WA — Aug 04 2021
New survey of conservationists reveals technology and optimism are key ingredients in adapting to the pandemic
The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has created tremendous challenges to conservationists globally, requiring innovation and resilience to continue their work. A new study uncovers the depth of these impacts and the invaluable role that technology has played in sustaining efforts to preserve and protect our wildlife and natural ecosystems during this time. The study assesses the overall state of conservation in light of the pandemic, the creative solutions technology has enabled, and the potential lasting impact of both on the field.
While the study’s results reveal some of the detrimental impacts on conservation over the last eighteen months, they also highlight the increasingly critical role technology is playing as a force for good and how it might transform conservation moving forward. The study’s key findings include:
- The pandemic has had an outsize impact on the work of conservationists. The impacts are wide-ranging, including less ability to engage in fieldwork (67%), decreased budgets (54%), and increased illegal wildlife activity such as trade, poaching, or fishing (50%).
- Access to conservation technology has carried conservationists through the COVID-19 pandemic. 81% agree conservation technology has helped them adapt or respond to the impacts of COVID-19.
- As in many sectors, the pandemic increased conservation’s transition to a more tech-reliant future. Two in three (65%) will use conservation technology more in the future because of COVID-19 and just under half (42%) will allocate more money toward conservation technology tools and subscriptions.
The survey was conducted by EMC Research on behalf of EarthRanger, Skylight, and WILDLABS – three leaders in conservation technology. “The results of the survey illustrate conservationists’ optimism around the assistance that technology can provide,” said Jes Lefcourt, Senior Conservation Technology Director of EarthRanger. “We are at an inflection point where technology solutions are becoming available to aid in some of the largest conservation challenges – and dedicated practitioners in the field are ready to leverage those solutions.”
The study makes clear the powerful role conservation technology has played in helping the field respond to the pandemic’s many obstacles, but respondents also identified additional challenges that must be overcome to ensure technology’s continued adoption. This includes increased affordability and scalability of platforms, advancements in AI and open source technologies, ability for local teams to manage and maintain systems, and opportunities for both in-person and remote capacity building.
“An already essential component of modern conservation, technology provides the opportunity for conservationists to build resilience and adapt in the face of global crises like the pandemic,” added Stephanie O’Donnell, Community Manager at WILDLABS. “But it is not enough to just have new technologies available for conservation – to achieve sustained impact, we must prioritize building local capacity for developing and using these tools.” In a separate study of conservation professionals, due to be released later this year, WILDLABS also found addressing unsustainable financing, lack of coordination across domain boundaries, and insufficient capacity building will be critical to the effective development and adoption of conservation technology.
More than 100 respondents who work in conservation were surveyed in total. They represent a diverse range of organizations in terms of size, function, and geography. The study explored critical themes to the future of conservation, including the pandemic’s impact on conservation-focused organizations, the ways in which technology has been used to mitigate these effects, and their vision for the future of conservation technology.
The study was conducted by EMC Research and commissioned by Vulcan Inc. It included 118 interviews from April 23 to May 17, 2021 with individuals working in conservation who belong to the networks of EarthRanger, Skylight, or WILDLABS. EarthRanger and Skylight offer their conservation technologies free of charge to end users and WILDLABS is the first open, online conservation technology community. Respondents were invited via email, newsletter, and social media to take the online survey. They did not receive any incentive, monetary or otherwise, for taking part in the survey.
Since 2017, EarthRanger has helped protected area managers make informed, conservation-related operational decisions. It is also used by ecologists and biologists to study wildlife and habitats, and to advocate for their protection. Developed by Vulcan Inc. in partnership with many conservation and technology partners, it is a software solution that combines real-time data from ranger patrols, remote imaging and many, various sensors. As of September 2021, EarthRanger is part of the Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence
. This move combines world-class research, engineering, product resources and talent to create greater positive impact, as envisioned by the late Paul G. Allen.
Through advanced machine learning, best-in-class vessel data, and robust satellite-based analytics, Skylight provides near real-time data visualizations and alerts of maritime activity to aid in the identification of suspicious vessel behavior, including illegal fishing. It’s instrumental in the management of marine protected areas and the enforcement of fishing policies and regulations. As of September 2021, Skylight, developed by Vulcan Inc. is part of the Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence
WILDLABS is the central hub for conservation technology online, connecting 5,000+ conservationists, researchers, field biologists, engineers, developers, makers, and conservation technology experts from around the world. Their rapidly developing research program harnesses rich insights from this global community to inform effective technology development and capacity building, break down barriers, and empower technologists and conservationists alike to transform the conservation landscape. With collaboration and innovation at the heart of their work, WILDLABS
is the launching pad for meeting conservation’s biggest challenges with conservation technology’s boldest solutions.