Coding for conservation: Saving the planet with tech

Conservation is a crisis discipline, so we need technology now more than ever. Image: Shutterstock

How to help the environment with drones, satellites and Artificial Intelligence (AI). 

From using tiny electronics to track turtles to catching wildlife poachers with drones, scientists are using game-changing tech to solve some of the biggest challenges in conservation.

And it’s all thanks to huge advances in computer science (CS), says Alex Dehgan, co-founder of Conservation X Labs, a US-based non-profit startup that develops conservation technology.

RELATED: Meet a conservation biologist

“Computer science and engineering can create new tools that allow us to meet the speed and scale of the problems we’re facing,” says Alex. “We can now connect our forests, rivers and oceans in the way that smart homes and cities are connected.”

Saving the natural world with AI

Tech-focused solutions also have the potential to make wildlife conservation and environmental management faster, cheaper and more far-reaching. The Allen Coral Atlas is a tool for mapping the world’s fragile coral reef systems from space.

Developed by an international cohort of scientists, conservationists and technologists, including an Aussie team from The University of Queensland, this very cool tool uses satellite imagery to create a super-detailed coral reef atlas you can see online – for free!

RELATED: 5 minutes with a conservationist

Another piece of tech using machine-learning techniques is Wildlife Insights, a cloud-based collaborative program that allows users to upload camera trap images from anywhere in the world. It can recognise 614 different species, making wildlife monitoring as easy as a click of a mouse.

Whether it’s designing handheld DNA screening devices to uncover illegal fishing activities or training drones to spot wildlife in far-flung locations, Alex says technology is set to transform how we protect the environment. It’s also shifting conservation away from simply tracking species loss to creating smart solutions that make a real impact.

So what does this mean for a career in tech? Skills like programming, machine learning and data mining are going to be highly sought by conservationists and environmental managers. “Powerful new emerging technologies offer hope for the future of conservation,” says Alex. “If we can send rovers and humans to Mars, then ending the sixth mass extinction is entirely within our reach.”

Tech + conservation study

Tech + conservation jobs

  • Geographic information systems analyst: AU$52K-$95K / NZ$48K–$84K
  • Data architect: AU$101K–$164K / NZ$91K (Average)
  • Machine learning engineer: AU$60K–$135K / NZ$46K–$93K*

*Source: salaries according to payscale.com

This article originally appears in Careers with STEM: Tech 2020.

Gemma Conroy

Author: Gemma Conroy

Gemma is a freelance journalist with a passion for making science accessible to everyone. Gemma has a degree in biology from Macquarie University and loves sharing amazing discoveries with the world.

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