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New Zealand Applies AI to Marine Conservation

Spyfish Aotearoa, a collaboration between a charitable organisation applying artificial intelligence (AI) to conservation and the Department of Conservation (DoC), allows ocean enthusiasts to get directly involved in scientific research.

By analysing 10-second video clips on the Spyfish website, all taken from monitoring surveys DoC undertakes each year in New Zealand’s marine reserves, volunteers can identify and count the species of fish they see. If the user is not over-familiar with native fauna, there is a chat function available to connect with the experts who are.

The surveys let the DoC estimate how abundant some types of fish are in the country’s reserves, such as blue cod, snapper, some species of sharks, and many more. It is a way to tell how well the marine reserves are doing at protecting these species.

However, identifying and counting species in the videos is time-consuming, especially for a single person. The Spyfish Aotearoa is being used to train AI software so in the future videos can be automatically analysed to identify and count the species. Using machine learning will save a huge amount of time and resources and produce data that can be used almost immediately.

According to the DoC, making the most of the opportunities provided by AI will greatly improve marine conservation outcomes for the future and bring the country further down in the path towards thriving oceans. Along the way, people in Aotearoa and overseas will be able to see and learn more about the species in New Zealand’s marine reserves, while contributing directly to marine conservation.

According to reports, anchored by the Resource Management Act, New Zealand’s government has declared its desire to follow sustainable development principles in its economic, social and environmental policies. In 2009, the Act was revised to simplify regulations and reduce costly delays for developers and investors while sustaining necessary ecological protections, resulting in quicker processing and better compliance. But according to research, restoring New Zealand’s waterways could take “hundreds of years” at the current rate of progress.

New Zealand is also socially and politically at the forefront of international climate issues, as illustrated by its adoption of a progressive carbon-trading scheme. The country is also making signs it wants to boost its start-up ecosystem – particularly when it comes to clean technology. Environment and climate-related technologies are improving.  New Zealand is a world leader in research on reducing the environmental impact of agriculture. It has a well-developed and skilled eco-innovation system.

Another report said that New Zealand is ripe for a cleantech revolution and noted countries that put significant resources into supporting cleantech innovation are rewarded with more emerging and commercialised cleantech companies.

In 2016, the government has taken measures aimed to help New Zealand green its economy and improve its environmental governance and management, with particular emphasis on water resources management and sustainable urban development. New Zealand is committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 30% below 2005 levels by 2030. The 2017 OECD Environmental Performance Reviews state that New Zealand is among the most energy-intensive economies.

New Zealand’s reputation as a ‘green’ country, both as a tourist destination and as a producer of natural and safe foods, needs to be upheld. Therefore, the government of New Zealand has taken numerous steps to conserve the country’s indigenous biodiversity. New Zealand’s Biodiversity Strategy has called for greater education and involvement at the local level, strengthening of partnerships with people regarding conservation of genetic diversity, and maintaining and enhancing natural habitats.


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