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5 planet-saving careers using AI + data

Planet-saving career

Meet five real-life role models combining their passion for the environment with data, machine learning and artificial intelligence

If you’re keen on a planet-saving career that uses a whole lot of STEM, you’ve landed on the right page. Get all the inspo below.

1. Wildlife conservationist and tech entrepreneur

Camille Goldstone-Henry

WHO: Camille Goldstone-Henry
TECH: Cloud computing, data analytics, artificial intelligence (AI)

“If you could define my childhood, it would be ‘wildlife obsessed’,” Camille says. You could define her career the same way.

After graduating with a Bachelor of Animal and Veterinary Bioscience from the University of Sydney, Camille had an incredible career in conservation that saw her work with Tasmanian devils, native species in Kakadu National Park, and even leatherback sea turtles in Costa Rica. However, during all these experiences she noticed a recurring problem.

Her job involved working with government, businesses, not-for-profits, other scientists and academics, community and landholders. “Each organisation had specific information that was really important for making decisions as to how we save species in the wild,” Camille explains. Such decisions might include, for example, where to release a species to give it the best chance of survival.

“Often I didn’t have the right information at the right time,” she says. This ‘data gap’ not only held back conservation efforts, but it endangered animals already threatened with extinction.

Conservation game changer

To address this problem, Camille skilled up in tech and, two years ago, launched Xylo Systems, a cloud-based software platform that helps conservation organisations
to share data and make decisions.

Camille believes the platform “is going to be a game changer for the conservation space”.

As for her future goals – short-term, Camille wants to grow Xylo Systems internationally. But long-term? “Our ambition is to be out of business,” she says. “I hope we’ve done our job and reversed biodiversity loss. We don’t say that to investors, but it’s the truth.”

NEXT STEP: Listen to our podcast episode featuring Camille talking more about her
career pivot from conservationist to tech entrepreneur

2. Drone pilot and animal rescuer

Douglas Thron

WHO: Douglas Thron
TECH: Drones, infrared cameras

Douglas rescues animals from disaster areas and works with researchers to remotely gather data about vulnerable species. In 2020, he visited areas devastated by the Australian bushfires to locate animals.

“As a wildlife cinematographer I used my cinematography as an activism tool to protect wild places. Once drones came out I used them as a tool to showcase the beauty of wild areas that needed to be protected. Later on I got the idea to put an infrared camera on a drone to help find animals during natural disasters. The infrared camera works by seeing the body heat of an animal and then we can go in and rescue it much faster.

“I was pioneering the use of infrared drones to find koalas after the giant fires. It was challenging because they were often so high in the trees, and the outside temperatures were so warm, that it was hard to get the infrared to decipher between what was a koala and what was hot leaves or bark on a tree!

“There was a lot of trial and error but finally I was able to mount a zoom-lens camera and also a spotlight on the drone to help identify what was a koala or not. After that I was able to save dozens of koalas – one of my most rewarding experiences.”

NEXT STEP: Watch Douglas’ drones in action on Curiosity Stream.

3. Applied scientist and business founder

Alisa Starkey

WHO: Alisa Starkey
TECH: Machine learning, satellite data

Alisa runs Ozius, a business that uses remote-sensing technology, AI and environmental science to uncover insights about built and natural environments.

She says she first learnt about the benefits of data while she was doing an environmental science degree at the University of Wollongong.

Ozius Biome is a program that can measure global forests and biomass using data from NASA and the European Space Agency’s Copernicus program, for example.

“We’re able to tap into data sets to look at height and cover and overall structure of the forest,” Alisa says.

“From local communities to big global businesses, we can respond to the global climate challenge. One thing that we get to see by analysing satellite imagery is that when everyone works towards a goal, we can really make a difference.”

NEXT STEP: Try out the Earth Observatory missions at EO Kids

4. Wildlife scientist and science communicator

Dr Vanessa Pirotta

WHO: Dr Vanessa Pirotta
TECH: 3D X-rays, machine learning

Wildlife trafficking is a problem globally, but often we’re only getting part of the story as we only know about the animals that have been smuggled after the smugglers are caught. Vanessa, a wildlife scientist and science communicator, says AI could help to prevent wildlife crime.

“It’s a cruel practice and also a big biosecurity problem as we don’t want exotic animals that can spread disease,” she says.

Vanessa is part of a team helping to train AI to know what to look for when scanning luggage or people at an airport, for example. AI learns by using a data set to build up a picture of something so that it can recognise it in real life. AI can be trained to recognise 3D X-rays of wildlife in much the same way that your smartphone can be trained to unlock after recognising your face.

“The more information we have on a variety of animals, the better we can be at stopping this activity,” she says.

NEXT STEP: Listen to Vanessa’s full story on ABC Radio National

5. Data systems engineer

David Crossman

WHO: David Crossman
TECH: Facial recognition technology

David works at the Australian Institute of Marine Science. He studied a Bachelor of Information Technology at James Cook University and now uses his tech and data skills to manage ReefCloud.

ReefCloud helps marine scientists and other reef users to instantly get detailed information about reefs, including the Great Barrier Reef, using facial recognition technology. By analysing reef images uploaded by snorkelers and marine scientists, ReefCloud can identify types of coral and their colours to see how the reef is changing over time. The vast amount of data it contains is stored and accessed using Amazon Web Services (AWS).

“We are in a race against time – there is no ‘undo’ option for us to save the reefs. Once the window is closed, there is no turning back,” David says.

“Using AWS, it now takes us hours to make sense of data sets that previously would have taken our data teams months, enabling us to focus on what we do best,” he says.

Careers with STEM Environment + Data magazine cover

NEXT STEP: Upload your own reef image to ReefCloud. Find out how here!

Find more planet-saving careers in the latest issue of Careers with STEM: Environment + Data. Meet more inspiring role models and discover the skills needed and pathways into a cool STEM career in this free careers resource for high school students.

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