Nature and Biodiversity

Digital tech is a vital force in protecting natural ecosystems

Island surrounded by coral reef system: Coral reef aquaculture is flourishing in Mauritius.

Coral reef aquaculture is flourishing in Mauritius. Image: Unsplash/Xavier Coiffic

Kevin Jingwen Tao
Director of the Board and the Corporate Sustainable Development Committee, Huawei Technologies
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Climate and Nature

This article is part of: World Economic Forum Annual Meeting
  • Coral reef systems are incredible sources of resources and safety but rising water temperatures mean 90% are in danger of being wiped out.
  • In an at-risk area off the coast of Mauritius, the Tech4Nature project has implemented one of the first technology-based coral reef restoration and monitoring systems for such ecosystems.
  • The restoration project aims for 25,000 coral fragments to be transplanted into degraded reefs to restore the reef around Pointe-aux-Feuilles in Mauritius.

Several years ago, a World Economic Forum report showed that more than half of the world's gross domestic product, around $44 trillion, relied on nature and the services it provides. Yet that value and the natural ecosystems behind it are being put at risk by the interlinked crises of climate change and biodiversity loss.

The world’s coral reefs are a case in point. They support a quarter of the world’s marine species and provide food, livelihoods, protection from flooding and a tourist destination for tens of millions of people each year.

But pollution, overfishing and rising sea temperatures caused by climate change are threatening their survival. Between 2009 and 2018, according to the UN, rising ocean temperatures led to the destruction of 14% of the world's coral reefs. If current trends continue, researchers believe 90% of the world's tropical corals will be wiped out by 2050 – along with the ecosystems and livelihoods that depend on them.

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Digital solutions

Digital technology can mitigate environmental degradation and biodiversity loss. Nature conservation involves a complex and diverse array of data. Smarter tech – artificial intelligence (AI), 5G, cloud, big data and the Internet of Things – lets scientists monitor animals, plants and their habitats to protect them from increasing natural and man-made pressures. Digital technology plays a pivotal role in sensitizing people about the importance of coral reefs.

For example, in 2020 Huawei and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) jointly launched Tech4Nature, a collaborative partnership that combines IUCN’s global conservation standards and tools with Huawei’s expertise to promote smart use of technology in conservation. Tech4Nature has piloted projects in China, Mauritius, Mexico, Spain and Switzerland, using tech and digital solutions to educate and protect different types of ecosystems and threatened species.

In Mauritius, Huawei and IUCN teamed up with local partner EcoMode Society to implement a three-year conservation programme at Pointe-aux-Feuilles off the eastern coast of the small island country.

Real-time monitoring

The project aimed to grow 25,000 coral fragments and then transplant them back into degraded reefs to restore a 2,000-hectare reef cluster around Pointe-aux-Feuilles.

The project’s main scientific and technological innovation lies in the real-time monitoring of data on the seabed coral reef ecosystem. The project team deployed solar-powered platforms on the surface of the sea, while underwater sensors at different depths measured environmental data including weather conditions, water quality and nutrients, and the population distribution and behaviour of marine life.

The platforms were also equipped with surface and underwater video and audio recording equipment, with the underwater cameras fitted with special lenses to monitor the growth and survival of coral fragments and interaction with associated biodiversity.

The data was sent in real-time to an onshore data centre using GPS receivers and a high-speed network, then analyzed on a cloud platform and studied by researchers at the University of Mauritius. A dedicated mobile application brings the live viewing to Mauritians and the world.

Before and after pictures of the underwater coral nursery.
Before and after pictures of the underwater coral nursery. Image: Tech4Nature

Scaling tech for nature

Huawei’s Tech4Nature partnership with IUCN is a vital step forward in scaling up nature conservation outcomes using innovative technology and digital solutions.

Over the past three years, the partnership has demonstrated the use of technology-based solutions and its potential for conservation success for key species in Protected and Conserved Areas in Asia, Africa, Latin America and Europe.

There has never been a greater need for wildlife conservation as we tackle the interconnected problems of habitat degradation, biodiversity loss and climate change. Rapid technological growth and its appropriate application can help us address environmental challenges. Deployed properly, it can inspire and can be a powerful force in helping humanity conserve, protect and restore the natural world.

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