Cool Ways to Help

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“Save the Whales”


Whalers and their catch, ca. 1913.

Back in the 1970s, a lot of cars sported “Save the Whales” bumper stickers. More than 2 million whales were caught by commercial whalers in the 20th century, and by the middle of the century, many populations were severely depleted. The “Save the Whales” campaign brought millions of people together, resulting in a near-worldwide ban on commercial whaling in 1986. Today, many fewer whales are being taken, but there are still many threats to their survival, including commercial marine traffic.

Big ships run into whales. Inadvertently, of course, but because today’s shipping lanes overlap with whale feeding and migration areas, whales (many of them endangered species) are at great risk of being injured or killed. Obviously, the best way to save the whales is to avoid running into them—and commercial ships now have some free tools that make that possible.

There’s an app for that.

For the past two years, mariners along the U.S. East Coast have been able to download a free iPad and iPhone app that warns them when they enter areas with a high risk of collision with critically endangered North Atlantic right whales. Whale Alert  provides a central source for information about how to navigate around right whales in specific areas, along with the latest data about their whereabouts, all overlaid on NOAA digital charts. Read more…

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One fish, two fish, right fish, wrong fish

A WWF International Smart Gear Competition to reduce bycatch

Pollock Catch

Alaskan pollock caught by trawler.
by David Csepp, NOAA/NMFS/AKFSC/Auke Bay Lab. – NOAA Photo Library: fish0192.

By some estimates, fishing bycatch—which includes unwanted dolphins, turtles, whales, and birds—snared by gillnets, longlines, and trawlers makes up 40% of the catch today.

The 2014 International Smart Gear Competition seeks innovative, environmentally friendly ways to reduce the amount of fisheries bycatch. The recurring contest is sponsored by the WWF, and has resulted in some really clever solutions (such as LED-equipped nets tuned to various wavelengths that repel specific species) that greatly reduce bycatch, conserving populations of marine mammals, turtles, fish, and other sea creatures.

Open to all, over the last few years the competition has attracted entries from all kinds of people who care about fishing— from gear technologists and fishermen to engineers and chemists. The judges panel includes fisheries experts, gear technologists, fishermen, scientists, researchers, and conservationists.

Deadline for entries for 2014 is August 31, but don’t let that stop you from coming up with new ideas. The contest is a recurring event—and this year’s prizes total $65,000.

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Nerds Without Borders Hit the Beach

Newly hatched sea turtles

Newly hatched sea turtles make their way to the ocean.

An item from O’Reilly’s IoT+ Newsletter that caught my eye:

Two million human visitors share the Cape Hatteras National Seashore with endangered turtles. To protect the turtle nests and hatchlings during the hatching period the beaches must be closed—but because it’s difficult to gauge when exactly the baby turtles will hatch, the beach is closed for 6 weeks from the discovery of the nest.

Nerds Without Borders has created nest monitor devices with a microcontroller, accelerometer, thermometer, and communications system inside a ping-pong ball (which, conveniently, looks a lot like a turtle egg).

These sensors more accurately determine when hatching will take place—allowing the beaches to be closed for much shorter periods and giving researchers a heads up when hatching will happen. Duane Benson explains.

(And if you’re wondering where the baby turtles go after they hatch and head out to sea…)

About Nerds Without Borders

Nerds Without Borders is a network of thoughtful people working collaboratively to solve many of the world’s most pressing problems. They are looking for all sorts of people to help: Engineers, Scientists, Writers, Artists, Dreamers, Activists, Organizers, Fundraisers, Financiers, among others. You define the type of work you want to do, and how much time you can commit to a project. Learn more at

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Instant Wild: Smart People, Awesome Technology

ZSL’s Alasdair Davies tells us how it’s done.

Instant Wild Images

Images captured by Instant Wild cameras in Africa are instantly transmitted to the Web for identification by the public.

Alasdair Davies

Alasdair Davies

Alasdair Davies is a Technical Advisor for the Zoological Society of London’s Conservation Technology program and a web developer for the EDGE of Existence program. His current focus is the delivery of ZSL’s Instant Wild project, the advancement of camera trapping technology, and the future development of the EDGE website. Alasdair is also a founder and director of the primate conservation organization The Great Primate Handshake. We conducted this interview via email. 

When and where was the idea for Instant Wild hatched?
ZSL’s Instant Wild programme started life on a staircase within Conservation Programmes at Regent’s Park, London—better known as the location of ZSL London Zoo. It was one of those “Have you seen the new GSM-enabled camera traps? Aren’t they great…” conversations whilst holding the morning’s first mug of coffee and checking in on the day’s schedule.

Is there a story behind it?
Instant Wild logo
Although the conversation on the staircase was brief, our Director of Conservation Programmes, Jonathan Baillie, was luckily the other person on the stairs that morning. Later that afternoon, he called me into his office. It was evident that he had been pondering the morning’s conversation and I could sense that there was an exciting idea on the table. Within in an hour, the name Instant Wild was decided upon and the concept of sending the very photos the cameras take to the general public for instant analysis was founded. We’d have hundreds of thousands of eyes scanning thousands of photos from across the globe every single day. It could answer so many questions, and there wasn’t a second to lose. Read more…

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A Different Kind of Quantified Self

MIsfit Shine

Misfit Shine “activity monitor”

I just got a personal tracking device that tells me how many calories I’ve burned, how much sleep I got last night, and how many more steps I need to take to meet my daily goal. Lots of people I know are busily keeping track of their activities with these sorts of devices, competing with each other to get the highest daily total.

As I fiddled with the device and got it set up, I wondered if it would be possible to create a similar device that would track things like how much carbon we each add to the environment, how much waste we generate, how much water we use—and how much we’ve done during the day to mitigate our negative impact on the planet. The daily goal: to get as close to impact-neutral as possible. Read more…

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Introducing Animal Warrior

animal_warrior Animal Warrior* has all of the elements of a great video game: a perilous task, bad guys, all kinds of obstacles to overcome and puzzles to solve, exotic settings, high-tech weaponry, and general mayhem.  

Well, it could have all of those things, if someone would just take the idea and produce it. In addition to making a pile of money, the game could do some good in the real world by highlighting one of the most important conservation issues of our time.

The goal: Stop evil poachers from capturing and killing endangered species like rhinos, elephants, lions, tigers, orangutans, and leopards in remote areas of Africa and Asia. The poachers are using assault rifles, helicopters, and high-tech detection and communications tools to locate and kill the animals – and the game wardens trying to protect them. Stop the poachers, save the animals, and help the wardens.

Game action: Outsmart the poachers and smugglers by undertaking paramilitary maneuvers to thwart, capture, or kill them, overcoming obstacles and various natural perils in remote and challenging environments, and creating alliances with local game wardens and communities. Avoid inadvertently injuring or killing randomly appearing eco-tourists and innocent locals, and don’t cause significant habitat destruction as you confront and battle poachers.

Not only would Animal Warrior be a blast (literally) to play, it could also help to create wider awareness of and empathy for the real-world problem of poaching. Extra bonus: some portion of the likely-to-be-huge profits could be donated to current anti-poaching efforts in Asia and Africa. It’s a win-win-win. Who’s game?

*My working title for the game; if you create it, you can call it whatever you want. And take all the credit, too.

Elephant photograph by nickandmel2006 on flickr [CC-BY-SA-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

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Update: Wildlife Conservation “Build and Fly” UAV Challenge

Taking to the skies to save rhinos


By Kore (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

This October I wrote a post about the Wildlife Conservation “Build and Fly” UAV Challenge, a project sponsored by Kashmir-Robotics to help save the rhinos of Kruger National Park. Participating teams will compete for a $25,000 prize.

It’s exciting to see that 100 teams from 19 countries have signed up to participate; there are four multinational teams.


Volunteer to help the Challenge

Challenge organizers are in need of volunteers to help with marketing, team coordination, blogging, social media, engineering, and more. See the Challenge Facebook page for more information and updates on the competition.