AI being used to help protect our whales? It’s happening right here in South Africa!
South Africa (26 May, 2023)—In the fight to protect our whales and the planet, Ai technology is playing an important role, right here in South Africa!
In a breath of fresh air amid all the ‘is AI going to take my job’ stories all over the internet, AI helping the planet is exactly what many environmentalists are rooting for.
Beyond marine conservation, whales are important for our ecosystem, and their protection is climate positive.
“Whales accumulate carbon in their bodies during their long lives. When they die, they sink to the bottom of the ocean, locking that carbon away for hundreds of years – a literal carbon sink. Each great whale sequesters 33 tons of CO2 on average. A tree, meanwhile, absorbs only up to 48 pounds of CO2 a year.” —WWF’s Protecting Whales and Dolphins Initiative Global Lead Chris Johnson.
While there are incredible people working tirelessly to free captured whales and protect various species, thousands of whales are still losing their lives because of climate change as it continues to disrupt their ecosystems, food supply and well-being.
That Doesn’t Sound Like a Whale of a Time
It doesn’t sound like a whale of a time because it isn’t. But, organisations like the World Wildlife Fund are on a mission to make a splash for the better, and they’re teaming up with technology giants to do it.
While most of us have encountered AI at one point or another recently (in hilarious, slightly creepy and curious ways) WWF and Vodacom have teamed up to create a unique warning system that will help prevent various whale species from getting caught up in rope entanglements, particularly mussel rope entanglements.
In Saldanha Bay, where most of South Africa’s mussel farming goes down, rafts with hundreds of ‘mussel ropes’ hang metres down into the sea. They’re left for multiple months at a time so that mussels can settle and eventually be farmed.
This is a problem for many whale species who move into these areas as part of their migration because they can get dangerously entangled.
To stop this, a special warning system is underway. Here’s how it works according to the team behind it!
“We’ve created an innovative AI-powered early warning system using IoT sensors in infrared cameras connected to hydrophones. When whales and other large marine mammals are detected in the bay area, the system alerts mussel farmers via their mobile phones.
“Even better, if entanglement occurs, the system automatically alerts South Africa’s National Sea Rescue Institute, which works closely with the farmers to quickly and safely free any whales in distress.
“This project helps minimise the harmful effects of rope mussel farming and demonstrates the power of technology to tackle sustainability challenges and protect marine life and livelihoods.”
Beyond protecting the whales, there is also an exciting resource on the cards that will help create ocean literacy for young people—the Ocean Challenge Game, set to be distributed to South African schools in coastal areas.
Every drop of effort surely creates an ocean of change.