Back in 2018, just before the 14th meeting of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), I wrote an article on this blog about a big argument regarding the future of protected areas. Should there be a 50% ‘half earth’ target for area-based conservation? Or should there be a shift towards a more integrated ‘whole earth’ perspective? Or something else?
Fast forward three years, and we are still waiting to see whether the 15th CBD Conference of the Parties, postponed from 2020 due to COVID, will happen this year (the current plan is for October 2021 in Kunming, China, but that is looking increasingly unlikely). While a lot has changed in this period, the future of area-based conservation remains the hot topic in the ongoing CBD process. Key players have set out various contrasting positions in press releases and on twitter, and an avalanche of papers that seek to influence the process have been published – including a proposed Global Deal for Nature, a call for an approach based on ‘three conditions’ of global land use, a calculation of roughly how many people live in areas that might be protected under a half earth goal, and many more.
Over the last few years the conservation movement has been enthusiastically deploying new surveillance technologies that make it possible to monitor and protect the natural world in ways once unimaginable. There are camera traps that can send live images of warthogs, lions and blurry things with legs direct to your desktop. There are unmanned aerial vehicles (or drones) that buzz overhead, filming orang-utan nests or measuring forest loss. There are tiny tracking devices that can be fitted to wild animals, allowing them to be followed from space as they wander around the Kenyan plains or fly across the ocean. And there are computer programmes that can predict the behaviour of poachers and send drones out to intercept them.
All of this is very exciting for conservationists. New gizmos promise better and cheaper data that can be used to monitor populations and understand threats, and new ways to tackle those threats. What’s more, some of the outputs of the technology are visually appealing and easily communicated to the general public through websites and smartphone apps, meaning that technologies can also be used to raise funds and promote public awareness.
Clearly new technology has a lot of potential for conservation, and websites like the newly launced WildLabs.net showcase the range of applications that are being developed. But is there another side to this story? Are there any potential risks or dangers lurking in the shadows as conservation rushes to deploy the latest gadgets? Continue reading →