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Using TV Whitespaces to Monitor Endangered Species

The Zoological Society of London mines the gap.

European Otter

European Otter at the London Zoo
Photo by Drew Avery (European Otter {Lutra lutra}) [CC-BY-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

I am always impressed with the imaginative ways the Zoological Society of London uses technology to try to protect and conserve endangered species. Here’s their latest brainstorm, as described on the ZSL website:

“ZSL and Google are working together to pilot the use of TV whitespaces (TVWS) – unused channels in the broadcast TV spectrum – at ZSL London Zoo. The trial aims to show how TVWS can be used to provide wireless connectivity over a large area and in non-line-of-sight scenarios. This exciting technology has huge potential to deliver fast internet to ZSL’s remote conservation sites and help monitor wildlife globally.

The pilot consists of cameras and TVWS radios installed at the otter, meerkat and Galapagos tortoise enclosures within the Zoo. Live footage from each enclosure is transmitted using TVWS technology to a base station and then streamed live onto ZSL’s YouTube channel. Members of the public can tune in to the live feeds and watch the animals anytime, anywhere.

To ensure there is no interference with licensed spectrum holders, Google’s spectrum database is being used to identify available whitespace.

This trial is the first step in understanding how ZSL can effectively use TVWS to support its field conservation projects. A particular area of interest is integrating TVWS into ZSL’s Instant Wild remote surveillance system to enhance data transmission range. ”

The YouTube streams started on October 9th, and will be live for two months.


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BeetleCopter View of the Serengeti

One of my earliest posts on this blog was about BeetleCam, a remote-controlled mobile camera built by Will and Matt Burrard-Lucas to get close up to all kinds of wildlife. Their goal was to shoot photographs without disturbing the animals or putting themselves in harm’s way. Their BeetleCam photographs of lions, elephants, leopards, African buffalo, and African wild dogs are startlingly beautiful.

Now BeetleCam has gone aerial: Will Burrard-Lucas has just introduced the BeetleCopter. He recently returned from the Serengeti with this beautiful aerial footage from his own custom-built camera copter.

Burrard-Lucas is a great photographer, with or without the help of BeetleCams or Copters; he’s captured exceptional images of wildlife all over the globe. His aim, as he says on his website, is “to inspire people to celebrate and conserve the natural wonders of our planet.” Mission accomplished.

If his work inspires you to look into getting a BeetleCam or BeetleCopter, check out Camtraptions, the company Burrard-Lucas recently launched to develop and sell remote and camera trap devices. You may not be able to travel the world as he does, but–if you’re into photography–with one (or both!) of these clever devices you just might discover something new in your own neck of the woods.

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Unicorn Caught by Camera Trap

First confirmed sighting in the wild in the 21st century

Wild Saola

Wild Saola – click image to see more Saola photos at

No, that headline isn’t bait-and-switch. It’s true: last week, a World Wildlife Fund camera trap in Vietnam captured an image no one expected to see: a wild saola, aka “Asian unicorn,” so named because saola have long, slender horns that grow up to 52 centimeters long.

The species was first discovered in Vietnam in 1992 and has only been photographed in the wild four times since then. Like the mythic unicorn, little is known about their ecology and habits, and no one knows how many saola there are left in the wild. The last confirmed sighting by conservationists was from a camera trap in 1999, when the saola population was estimated to be about 1000. A decade later, conservationists estimated that the population had decreased to 200. Today saola are considered one of the most endangered species on the planet. Read more…

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The California Condor Cam

They’re back—and ready for their closeup.

Condor in flight

Condor in flight (note tagged wing).
By Pacific Southwest Region U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service from Sacramento, US (Flying California condor. Uploaded by Snowmanradio) [CC-BY-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Unfortunately, as with many species, time and human beings have not been kind to the condor. The first recorded sighting of a California Condor in Monterey Bay occurred in 1602, by Spanish explorer Father Antonio de la Ascension. At the time, California Condors roamed large areas of the American Southwest and West Coast. By 1987, the birds were nearly extinct due to poaching, lead poisoning, and habitat destruction.

The last remaining condors in the wild—the entire population consisted of 22 individuals—were captured in 1987 and moved to zoos in San Diego and Los Angeles in an attempt to save the species through a captive breeding program. That program has been a success: since 1991, condors have been slowly released into the wild, and today there are 435 condors in existence, 237 of which live in the wild.

In mid-October, the first camera to capture live streaming video of condors in the wild was turned on in the remote hills of Big Sur. Read more…

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Essential things you probably don’t know much about

We’re talking plankton. Yep, plankton.


Amphipod (Zooplankton)

Bet most of you don’t know much about plankton, but you probably should, since they contribute substantially to the oxygen you breathe, among other essential planet-supporting activities. Now there’s a fun, mind-expanding way to learn about these exceptionally hard-working organisms—and help scientists collect data about the effects of climate change on the world’s oceans.

In mid-September, Zooniverse launched a project to crowd-source identification of plankton from photographic images captured at various locations around the globe. By identifying the numbers, sizes, and types of plankton found in these areas, scientists can analyze where and when plankton occur at different depths in the ocean; this information is a key to understanding the health of the oceans’ ecosystems.

Read more…

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Take a Virtual Tour of the World’s Coral Reefs

Photographers with new tools and technologies document reefs worldwide

In the 1960s and 70s,  the TV documentary series The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau brought the magnificence of the oceans to millions of viewers. Cousteau, a French researcher, explorer, and filmmaker involved in oceanography since the 1940s, quickly became a cultural icon and a leading voice in the environmental movement.

Today, you don’t have to watch a TV documentary to see the undersea landscapes Jacques Cousteau spent his life documenting: thanks to the Catlin Seaview Survey, everyone can now conduct their own virtual tours of coral reefs, right on their laptops.

Coral Reef near Heron Island

An image of the coral reef near Heron Island, taken using the Seaview SVII camera.
By © Underwater Earth / Catlin Seaview Survey – [CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia [CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

According to the Survey’s website, 40-50% of corals have been lost over the last 50 years due to pollution, overfishing, and climate change. And this decline is likely to continue, which is a critical issue for millions of people who rely on the reefs for food, coastal protection, and tourism dollars.

The Catlin Seaview Survey, launched in September 2012 on the Great Barrier Reef, aims “to scientifically record the world’s coral reefs and reveal them all in high-resolution, 360-degree panoramic vision.” The image data collected by the survey will enable change to be monitored over time, enabling scientists, policymakers, and the general public to see and understand what’s happening to the reefs, which may spur more action to restore and protect reefs worldwide. The images clearly show the difference between active, healthy reefs and reefs that have suffered severe decline.  Read more…

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Wild Again

On Kickstarter: Beautiful Photographs of Habitat Restoration

Tea Picking in Kenya

Tea picking in Kenya. Photograph © Barrney Wilczak.

In the early 1900s, thousands of acres of Kenyan forest were cleared for the production of monoculture crops of tea and the eucalyptus used to dry it. Now some of that habitat is being restored by the Ecological Restoration Alliance, a group of botanic gardens from the US, UK, Canada, Brazil, Mexico, South Korea, China, Australia, and Jordan. Their goal is to restore 100 damaged and degraded habitats across 6 continents in 20 years. The places they’re targeting include tropical forests, prairies, wild places within cities, wetlands, and coastal sites — ecosystems that are threatened and no longer able to sustain people’s livelihoods or to support biodiversity.

The Alliance’s approach includes restoring wild areas, protecting restored habitats, and creating socioeconomic benefits for local communities. And it’s an approach that works. In just 12 years, restoration of the upland forest in Kenya has transformed a eucalyptus plantation into a thriving forest with over 150 bird species, a wide range of mammals, and hundreds of rare and endangered tree species. Read more…