Up in the Cloud with a Rainforest Guardian
Did you know the rainforest plays a critical role in sustaining our livelihoods? Often called the “lungs of the planet,” rainforests absorb enormous volumes of carbon dioxide, while supplying 20% of the world’s oxygen. What’s more, the rainforest is home to over 50 million species that support our complex biosphere. However, we are in danger of losing this incredibly vital ecosystem due to illegal deforestation. Nearly 18 million acres of rainforests are disappearing each year, and we have already lost about 57% of the world’s rainforests. At this rate, the entire Amazon could be gone in 50 years. We can’t stand by any longer; the time to take action is now.
Creating a novel approach to preserving one of our planet’s most precious natural resources, the non-profit organization Rainforest Connection (RFXc) leverages technology to save rainforests and to help stop climate change. I had the pleasure of meeting with Topher White, founder and CEO of Rainforest Connection, to help him install a “Rainforest Guardian,” a device that is placed high up in a tree to collect and analyze sounds in the environment and provide real-time alerts of potential danger to local rangers at all times of the day – such as sounds of chainsaws to alert about illegal deforestation.
Our job for the day: to install a Rainforest Guardian in the woods of California. Once we were fully secured in our harnesses, we climbed our way up the tree – a daunting challenge for a non-expert climber like me.
We were so high up that we could see the tops of all the trees around us, which brought home to me the scale and majesty of the ecosystems that humanity is in danger to losing if current trends continue.
The first step of installing a Rainforest Guardian is to mount an upcycled smartphone in a protective box with a microphone. The microphone picks up all the sounds in the forest, and collects that audio data to send to a secure back-end platform for AI-enabled analysis. Lastly, we strap onto the device a set of solar panels to keep it powered. For at least two years, Rainforest Guardians can endure extreme environments from high temperature and humidity to heavy rain. I was so surprised to learn that it typically takes only one person to assemble all these components and install the device.
Topher shared that it’s a constant challenge to figure out how to protect devices inside rainforests, given the constantly changing environment. What inspired him to use retired phones is their durability and that cell phone service can be found even deep in the rainforest. Leveraging this existing network, Rainforest Connection is able to deploy Rainforest Guardians across the world. Since these devices serve as extra ears in the rainforest, this significantly reduces ineffective deployment of forest rangers, as they can spend less time patrolling all areas of the rainforest and more on direct efforts in specific locations at immediate risk.
Through all this work, Rainforest Connection expects to cover 6,000 square kilometers of rainforest and 4 billion trees this year, which will decrease carbon dioxide emissions by 300 million tons. What’s next for Rainforest Connection? In order to upgrade capabilities, the organization is working to build another model that can monitor and interpret spider monkey sentiment to better protect this endangered species. Spider monkeys are particularly important because they help maintain the overall health and biodiversity of the whole rainforest by dispersing seeds across large areas, which propagates plants and trees, ultimately helping wildlife thrive.
I remain impressed by Rainforest Connection’s commitment resourceful way of approaching such a threat to global biodiversity – a threat that requires partnerships and a sustained effort if rainforest ecosystems are to survive into the future.
To learn more about what’s being done to improve environment conservation, visit Rainforest Connection website where you can download the RFCx app to listen to the sounds of rainforests in real time.
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- Protecting the Palawan Rainforest in the Philippines
- TECH4ALL: Acting Now To Stop Our Rainforests from Disappearing
- Why Earth Day Matters More than Ever
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