Nature and Biodiversity

International Day for Biological Diversity: From AI to robot jellyfish, here's the technology protecting biodiversity

A new 'Jellyfish-Bot' will gather waste particles in the ocean through its robotic, electrode-current limbs, one of many ways technology is protecting ecosystems and biodiversity.

A new 'Jellyfish-Bot' will gather waste particles in the ocean through its robotic, electrode-current limbs, one of many ways technology is protecting ecosystems and biodiversity. Image: Unsplash/Oday Hazeem

Ian Shine
Senior Writer, Forum Agenda
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Nature and Biodiversity

This article is part of: Centre for Nature and Climate

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  • To mark International Day for Biological Diversity on 22 May, we’ve rounded up some ways in which AI and other technologies can help to protect biodiversity.
  • This includes high-tech maps powered by supercomputers and robotic jellyfish that can clean up underwater waste.
  • Accelerating progress in this area is critical, as biodiversity loss and ecosystem collapse are one of the biggest risks facing the world in the coming 10 years.

The world is facing an unprecedented biodiversity crisis. At the same time, it has seen an unprecedented rise in technological capabilities – a so-called Fourth Industrial Revolution in which robotics, data and interactions between humans and machines look likely to change many aspects of life as we know it.

But this technology also has the potential to preserve life as we know it, and it is already doing so in a series of biodiversity projects worldwide.

Accelerating progress in this area will be critical, as biodiversity loss and ecosystem collapse are ranked as one of the biggest risks facing the world in the coming 10 years in the World Economic Forum’s Global Risks Report 2023.

“Given that over half of the world's economic output is estimated to be moderately to highly dependent on nature, the collapse of ecosystems will have far-reaching economic and societal consequences,” it notes.

To mark International Day for Biological Diversity, which takes place on 22 May, we’ve rounded up some ways in which AI and other technologies can help to protect biodiversity.

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High-tech maps to help protect biodiversity

We cannot protect the 1 million species facing extinction around the world if we do not know where they are. High-tech maps that use a combination of remote sensing, AI and statistical modelling can see where these species are and predict where they might be going.

This is exactly what Spatial Planning for Area Conservation in Response to Climate Change (SPARC) does. Created by scientists and policy experts from more than 20 organizations, it is powered by supercomputers and deploys mapping tools based on geographic information systems – computer systems that capture, check and display data related to the position of objects on Earth’s surface.

This allows it to track the worldwide movements of plants, birds and mammals, and gives countries the ability to devise better conservation plans that take into account the effects of climate change.

The SPARC high-tech map uses supercomputers to track biodiversity movements.
The SPARC high-tech map uses supercomputers to track biodiversity movements. Image: SPARC

AI-powered threat detectors

The Tech4Nature partnership created by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and technology company Huawei is using AI and blockchain to help monitor land and sea for potential biodiversity threats. A total of 22 solutions are in place across 19 countries, helping to manage protected areas and monitor species.

One example: a smart buoy with bioacoustic sensors able to detect dolphin and whale calls. The data it receives it sent via the cloud for AI analysis, producing insights into the behaviour and movements of these animals, as well as the impact of noise pollution. All of this can help guide the thinking of conservation professionals.

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Another Tech4Nature project is the Nature Guardian. This a small device surrounded by small solar panels and equipped with microphones and antennas. Its design makes it fairly unnoticeable in natural environments, but it can detect sounds across a range of three square kilometres and, like the smart buoy, runs everything it picks up through AI-powered analytics.

If it detects the sound of a threat – such as a chainsaw or gunshot – it sets off an alarm to alert local rangers. The Nature Guardian has been recognized as making an outstanding contribution to achieving the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.

View of the Nature Guardian device.
The Nature Guardian detects threats by combining microphones with AI-powered analytics. Image: Tech4Nature/TECH4ALL

Robotic jellyfish that can clean up oceans

When jellyfish swim, their movements create underwater currents that trap nutrients. The Jellyfish-Bot applies the same principle to help it clean up rubbish in the ocean.

The movements of its robotic, electrode-current limbs allow it to gather waste particles. It can also use its limbs like claws, to pick up large pieces of litter.

The Jellyfish-Bot was developed at Germany’s Max Planck Institute for Intelligent Systems. At the moment, it still needs a wired power supply, meaning it has limited scope, but the researchers are working on enabling wireless communication with the aquatic robot.

Payments for environmental protection

A long-running program in Costa Rica pays landowners for “environmental services” their forests and plantations provide as a result of implementing sustainable forest and land management techniques.

These environmental services include carbon sequestration, biodiversity protection, water regulation and landscape beauty, and by being part of the Payments for Environmental Services Program, they have turned Costa Rica from a country with one of the highest rates of deforestation in the world in 1970s and 1980s, into a leader in environmentally sustainable development. It has even been named a UN Champion of the Earth for its role in the protection of nature. Special technology helps to monitor and evaluate how resources are invested and ensure they reach those who can effectively provide environmental services.

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