11 January 2022


As part of their assessment, students following the Interdisciplinary Master’s course “Digital Innovation in Nature Conservation” were asked by their teacher, Jérôme Duberry, to create a series of podcast interviews to showcase innovative solutions for nature conservation. Here are the results of this initiative.

Digital applications have started to gain prominence in nature conservation, in both number and diversity, and are progressively shaping conservation discourses and practices. For instance, The Ocean Cleanup uses machine learning to identify plastic pollution in rivers and simulate how it moves in the ocean. In Namibia, Wildlife Credits is a blockchain-based payment scheme that offers direct payments for wildlife sightings and maintaining habitat. By examining digital innovation in nature conservation, the course given by Jérôme Duberry aims to prepare students for the future of conservation. It addresses current innovations and weak signals in terms of governance, technologies, and conservation tactics. It also aims to take a critical approach to digital technologies and warn against hype, techno-fixed thinking, good news stories and untested assumptions. 
As part of his course, Dr Duberry asked students to prepare a series of seven podcast interviews:

Podcast 1:
A talk with Tim Van Dam about how sensor technology can be used to conserve endangered wildlife
by students Michael Atkinson, Maria Vittoria Berardi, Kyle Patrick Lynch, Yelena Minasyan and Sam Molitor
Tim van Dam is a Senior Business Developer in the telecom market and an expert on LoRaWAN-technology and sensor networks (LoRa is the de facto wireless platform of Internet of Things). He is the cofounder and director of Smart Parks. The latter offers an advanced sensor solution to conserve endangered wildlife and efficiently manage large park areas. It covers conservation areas with a state-of-the-art communication network that collects data from sensors across the park (on animals, gates, cars etc). The data is then processed and presented in an easy-to-use web application, providing information on, among other things, the location of the endangered animal. 
Nota bene: Tim van Dam was found through an article entitled “WWF Human-Wildlife Conflict Tech Challenge”.

Podcast 2:
The Global Forest Watch (GFW) programme, with Gabrielle Nussbaum
by students Khaliun Purevsuren, Hugo Brandam, Erika Andrea Tascón Hoyos, Annia Costermani Visconti and Aloïs Aguettant
The students got the opportunity to meet with Gabrielle Nussbaum to talk about her work at the Global Forest Watch (GFW) programme. GFW is an open-data monitoring platform for anyone to access real-time information about where and how forests are changing around the world. It provides crucial data on deforestation practices and climate change’s impact on forests by satellite imagery. This innovative platform enables the creation of partnerships between governments, NGOs, civil society and academic institutions – all this with the aim of combining national and global data with technology to facilitate national forest management and to safeguard these essential ecosystems. This podcast touches upon topics such as the challenges to building trust in data, making data available, visible and accessible, the role of governments in moving from knowledge to actions, and the envisioned future for forests. 

Podcast 3:
Kristofer Alstaad explains how data assimilation techniques are used to create climate models
by students Laura Mauricio, Alexa Patricia Calderón Rodríguez, Asuka Nagasawa, Daniela Salazar Diaz, Léo Marius Chauvin Morisse and Nicolle Mae Renion
Kristoffer Alstaad is a climate scientist working as a researcher at the Department of Geosciences, University of Oslo (UiO), Norway. His work focuses on applying data assimilation techniques to combine Earth observations with climate models, particularly in cold regions. He is currently engaged in the Permafrost Climate Change Initiative (CCI) project funded by the European Space Agency to help produce global permafrost maps and in the Spot-On project funded by the Research Council of Norway to use drones to improve simulations of the exchange of carbon, energy, and water between the land and the atmosphere. Until now, he has focused on regions that are undergoing rapid climate change, such as the Arctic, the Swiss Alps, the Near East, Lebanon, and California. He is now working on applying data assimilation to the myriad of emerging Earth observations from both satellites and drones to help advance climate science. 

Podcast 4:
Creating a Digital Twin of Earth, with Torsten Hoefler
by students Heli Niraj Shah, Jessica Eberhart, Jiayi Zhu, Sarah Shafik and Zheting Liu
What role does science play in finding innovative solutions for nature conservations? During this podcast episode, we will get to know Torsten Hoefler, a professor and computer scientist from ETH Zurich. Torsten is working on the “Destination Earth Initiative” that is aimed to help the European Union become climate neutral by 2050. During a period of ten years, the plan is to create a highly accurate digital model of the Earth. With this digital twin of Earth, it should become possible to simulate and project out the future of environmental issues before they really happen. Tune in to learn more about this highly innovative digital solution for nature conservation and to find out how it is intended to help support policymakers at the same time.

Podcast 5:
The intersection between DNA science and nature conservation issues, with Misa Winters
by students Aravind Ganapathi, Sarayu Krishnan, Melanie Ruhl, Hana Sugiyama and Ryota Taniguchi
In this interview with Misa Winters, Molecular Lab Manager and DNA scientist from Conservation X labs, located in the United States, Misa introduces some innovative technologies for nature conservation such as the NABIT (Nucleic Acid Barcode Identification Tool) and the Sentinel (new artificial intelligence tool to address emerging extinction threats). These tools help to empower conservationists on the field. As students from social science backgrounds, the interviewers also ask questions regarding the ethical dimensions in nature conservation to explore the sometimes complex nature of technology implementation. In the end, Misa kindly leaves an inspiring message for students pursuing a career in conservation.

Podcast 6:
CoMiMo: A new digital solution for detecting illegal mining in Colombia, with Santiago Saavedra
by students India Belgharbi, Jiae Yang, Jungsoo Lee and José Daniel Reyes Silva
Colombia is one of the countries that suffer the most from illegal mining activities, which cause serious environmental impacts and threaten public health. Currently, around 80% of the gold sold from Colombia has an illicit origin. Illegal mining, however, is unlikely to cease soon considering that it is around 20 times more profitable than drug trafficking. In this context, Professor Santiago Saavedra of Universidad del Rosario developed CoMiMo (Colombia Mining Monitoring), a platform using artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning technologies to detect illegal mines through satellite images.
Professor Saavedra sees the possibility of establishing so-called “algocracy”, regulation by algorithms, in the future where municipalities use the platform to identify potential illegal mines. Large civil society involvement is also needed to make the algorithm more and more precise, as CoMiMo uses citizen science to help develop the machine learning process through validation. CoMiMo is indeed a platform bridging all together citizens, government, academia, and the private sector to fight against illegal mining. This new innovative solution based on AI and citizen participation emphasizes the potential of digital technologies’ integration in the fight for nature conservation. 

Podcast 7:
Synthetic Biology: Rewriting Human-Nature Relations, with Kent H. Redford
by students Albin Sunny Varghese, Jingyi Ye, Rishika Rishika, Serena Clarssie Go Uy and Tze Qi Chong
Dr Kent H. Redford is the principal at Archipelago Consulting. Having 14 years of experience on nature and wildlife conservation in NGOs, he specialised in mammals and bird protections. In 2011, Kent established the Archipelago Consulting, mainly focused on reviewing the global status of private protected areas and making recommendations for organisations to achieve conservation. Kent has worked at the interface between academia and conservation practices for his entire career; at present, he is striving for an impending intersection between conservation and synthetic biology.
The interview started with a brief introduction of synthetic biology, and moved to the application of the technology. It then dived deeper into the relationships between public and synthetic biology, specifically the social and political challenges occurring when science and technology applied in nature conservation. With the discussion on future scenarios at the end of the interview, Kent highlighted the importance of human imagination to unleash multiple possibilities.

Banner picture: excerpt from an illustration by koya979/