Technology for Wildlife Foundation - Updates Thread

About us

Hello to the readers and members of the Grove Forum. This is the first Grove update from Technology for Wildlife Foundation (TfW), and we’ll update this thread periodically with more news about our projects and activities.

At TfW, our mission is to amplify conservation impact through the use of appropriate technology. Our work is mediated by our experience, extensive research and inclusive stakeholder consultations. We have domain expertise in geospatial analysis and robot operations, and conduct both our own projects as well as collaborative projects with individuals and other organisations. As of June 2021, we are a registered not-for-profit organisation (a Section-8 company) based out of Goa, India

  1. Overall updates (since the last update)

We welcomed new team members to the Foundation in November and December 2021. Our current core team of 4 is made up of a conservation cartographer and a conservation communicator who work closely with our programme manager and director.

Our on-going independent initiatives are a) the Clearance Mapper, b) the UAV for Conservation in India, c) the Ghost Gear Technology Project and d) the Reimagining Coasts Initiative ( a joint venture with Eco-Niche). We’ve provided a little more information on these projects further below.

Our collaborative projects are with conservation journalism organisations and with NGOs. For the first, we’re currently collaborating with Mongabay-India to produce maps of various kinds to accompany articles on wildlife and environmental conservation. With NGOs, we currently have on-going projects with Dakshin Foundation, WWF-India and the Wildlife Conservation Trust (WCT), among others. We recently completed the first of two field trips to Bihar, with WCT, where we used UAVs to study Gangetic dolphins and gharials.

  1. Progress on the goals listed while on-boarding

Our goals for the 2021-24 period are to collaborate, innovate and educate. To meet these goals, we’re developing projects in collaboration with our partners and conducting our own independent technology projects that will assist the larger ecosystem of conservation practitioners. To promote the effective use of technology for conservation, we’re giving talks and seminars, conducting workshops, writing blog posts and participating in panel discussions.

A sample of our recent talks:

  1. A workshop on the use of robots for conservation, for ENVIS/WWF-India’s 2022 cohort of the Green Skill Development Programme.
  2. An invited talk on Technology for Wildlife Foundation’s work at the Outlook India Responsible Tourism Awards 2022, held in Hampi, Karnataka.
  3. A panel discussion at the International Congress for Conservation Biodiversity (ICCB) on the role of conservation science in the 21st Century

Aside from our various collaborative projects, we’ve also initiated our own, which are designed to assist the larger conservation community in India.

Independent Initiatives

a) Clearance Mapper Project

We are building expertise in using PARIVESH (www.parivesh.nic.in), the government portal that provides information on forest, wildlife and environment clearances provided by the government to development projects around the country. We are also making clearance data more accessible to the general public in two ways; firstly, we are putting out educational material on how this data can be used for conservation purposes, and secondly, we are working towards creating tools which allow for easier access and analysis of this data. More information is available in this blogpost

b) UAVs for Conservation in India

We are creating a report documenting the use of UAVs for conservation purposes in India over the past few years. Interviews are being conducted with conservation practitioners and UAV operators across the country, and we’re collecting a very interesting set of use cases that will be published in the public domain. Shivali Pai, a researcher at the Liverpool John Moores University in the UK, is working with us on this project.

c) Ghost Gear Technology Project

In June 2019 we completed a report on the use of technology to locate abandoned, lost and otherwise discarded fishing gear, commonly known as ghost gear. We re-opened this project in September 2021, and are currently in the process of updating our research and preparing a manuscript for publication in a peer-reviewed journal. Our intention is for this paper to assist with the mapping of target areas for ghost gear removal, thus reducing the threat to marine wildlife. Dr. Meredith Palmer joined us as a research consultant on this project in November 2021.

d) Reimagining Coasts Initiative

The goal of this initiative is to create a financially sustainable coastal conservation model that leverages modern technology and the nascent ecosystem-services market.

This initiative comprises research and innovation that inform collaborations and conservation strategy. We are analysing data acquired from UAVs and satellite imagery to rapidly and accurately assess ecosystem services provided by mangrove forests and seagrass beds. We’ve put together project designs for work in Goa, and have also initiated collaborations with Panchabhuta Foundation (Karnataka), Farmers For Forests (Maharashtra) and with Praja Pragathi Seva Sangham (Andhra Pradesh).

  1. Any challenges

The third wave of the Covid-19 pandemic in January 2022 delayed both field work as well as our search for a permanent office space in Panjim, Goa. Conversely, the open window for travel in March and April 2022 has led to a high demand for our services, which has led to a heavy workload for our team. We are managing this by prioritising urgent tasks, and are making full use of GSuite, Slack and Asana to work efficiently.

With our growing team, managing payroll and compliance were also becoming more complex. Thanks to assistance from Tech4Good Community, we were able to connect with Razorpay and are now enthusiastic users of the Razorpay HR & Payroll toolkit.

  1. Any new avenues of collaboration (with other Grantees of RCF or other NPO/NGO)

Under our Reimagining Coasts Initiative, we are collaborating with fellow RCF grantee - Farmers for Forests by working with their forest protection and mangrove reforestation pilot study in Raigad.

We are also working with Dakshin Foundation on developing methods to effectively use UAVs for turtle conservation in Odisha.

  1. Highlights from the initiatives being undertaken as part of your organization

**We’ve been assisting the #SaveMollem campaign with spatial analysis support. The campaign as a whole was awarded the Sanctuary Wildlife Service Award 2021 at the Sanctuary Asia Awards.

In 2021, our Reimagining Coasts Initiative was selected to join the Land Accelerator Asia by the World Resources Institute.

Also in 2021, Technology for Wildlife Foundation was selected as an ESRI Conservation Program grantee.

At the Outlook India Responsible Tourism Awards 2022, Technology for Wildlife Foundation was recognised as ‘One to Watch’ in the Sustainable Conservation Leadership category. This award was handed over to Shashank Srinivasan by the Karnataka Minister of State for Tourism, Ecology and Environment.

Also in 2022, we have been nominated for an AirWard in the Survey and Inspection category.

  1. Outcomes you are chasing for the next 6 months (these can remain the same if unchanged since the last update)

We will complete and publish our work on both Ghost Gear Technology and the Use of UAVs for Conservation in the next six months. We also hope to make significant progress on our Clearance Mapper project, with the development of a usable tool. Our collaborations are proceeding apace; we will be revisiting the Gandak river after the monsoon is complete to conduct the second phase of our dolphin and gharial surveys in collaboration with the Wildlife Conservation Trust. As part of this project, we’ll be initiating a collaboration with IISER-Bhopal to use computer vision to identify the target species in UAV imagery. We also hope to be able to work in Ladakh later this year, on marmot and pika surveys, and in Odisha, on olive ridley turtle surveys.

  1. KPIs (please use this section to let us know of the impact and reach of your work since the last update)

This is our first update!

  1. Can Rainmatter be of help with anything at all

We’re looking for assistance on data architecture for our Clearance Mapper platform. While we have narrowed down on Amazon Web Services, technical advice on how best to set up our code and database would be very helpful.

  1. Any additional details you would like to provide

We blog extensively about our work at www.techforwildlife.com/blog, and are also very active on Twitter and Instagram (@techforwildlife).

  1. Please also share any images or videos that you have documented as part of your work


A Technology for Wildlife Foundation team selfie (as of April 2022)

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Hello to the readers and members of the Grove Forum!

This is the second Grove update from Technology for Wildlife Foundation.

1) Overall updates

We welcomed a new member to the Foundation’s team in June 2022. Our current core team of five comprises two conservation cartographers, a conservation communicator, a programme manager and the director. In this phase of the post-pandemic era, our team has transitioned from fully remote to a hybrid model in Panjim, Goa. We meet to work together as required, and work from home, cafes or co-working spaces otherwise. While we are currently looking for a permanent office space in Panjim, we will continue working in this hybrid mode for the near future.

Two of our team were selected to attend fellowships and workshops during the monsoon, when most of our fieldwork was restricted. Nandini Mehrotra, our programme manager, was in Bellingham, Washington, U.S. as a Kinship Conservation Fellow, while Nancy Alice, our conservation communicator, attended the Bangalore Science Gallery’s Carbon School.

In August, we met the Mongabay-India team in person when they visited Goa, and had a full-day meeting with them regarding our collaboration on conservation cartography.

In September, once everyone returned to Panjim, we had a two-day in-person meeting; on the first day, we recapped each team members’ work and experience over the summer, and on the second, we discussed carbon, carbon markets and carbon-centric spatial analysis with Nisha D’Souza from EcoNiche sitting in.

Also in September, TfW was invited to co-lead India Flying Labs, and is currently the nodal organisation for any Indian UAV/conservation project that arises from the network. In practice, this gives us more visibility, and more access to projects of the type that we specialise in.

After a year of experience, we’ve locked in our operational technology stack for the foreseeable future. Our primary tools are GSuite, Asana and Slack for day-to-day operations, and RazorpayX for pPayroll & HR. Via Razorpay and Plum, we have comprehensive group health insurance for all full-time staff.

2) Progress on the goals listed while on-boarding

Our current on-going independent initiatives are (a) the Clearance Mapper, (b) the use of UAVs for Conservation in India, (c) the Ghost Gear Technology Project and (d) the Reimagining Coasts Initiative (a joint venture with Eco-Niche). A new addition to this list is (e) a QGIS plugin to help plan conservation-related UAV mapping missions. We’ve also summarised a set of our other activities under f) Minor on-going projects and outreach.

a) Clearance Mapper Project

In August 2022, from an outreach perspective, we authored an article in Sanctuary Asia on PARIVESH, along with advantages and disadvantages of the portal.

Regarding constructing the clearance mapper tool itself, we spoke to various lawyers and understood that unless the data hosted on PARIVESH was released under an open–source licence, we would incur significant risk by making the data itself available to the general public. However, we use the tools we’ve built as required by our projects, and are working towards making the code that underpins these tools publicly available.

b) UAVs for Conservation in India

We are preparing a report that documents the use of UAVs for conservation in India. Our current collaborator on this project is Shivali Pai, a researcher at the Liverpool John Moores University in the UK. Together, we have interviewed conservation practitioners and UAV operators across the country, and will be conducting more interviews over the next few weeks. Our goal is to have Volume 1 of this report published early next year. Our planned Volume 2 will extend to UAV operations across South Asia, South-East Asia and Africa.

c) Ghost Gear Technology Project

Our paper on the use of technology to find and identify ghost gear has been updated; it now lists more types of technology and is applicable globally. It is now applicable globally, and comprehensively covers the various types of technology available. The draft is currently in the final stage, after which we will submit it for peer-review and eventual publication. Our collaborator on this project is Dr. Meredith Palmer, a conservation technology specialist with Fauna and Flora International (FFI).

d) Reimagining Coasts Initiative

In May, we made a field trip to Raigad, Maharashtra with Farmers for Forests (F4F), a fellow Rainmatter grantee, to assess mangrove restoration sites. We deployed UAVs to scout for potential sites, and collect data that would support decision-making on whether particular sites could host viable sites.

We’ve also been working towards understanding the mangrove/carbon space, from both the research and the market perspectives. We’ve spoken to numerous actors in this space, and are in the process of actively developing projects that will assist with mangrove conservation and restoration across India.

e) Open-source UAV mapping plugin

We’ve created the first version of an open source QGIS plugin that streamlines the production of UAV mapping missions. This combines some of our previous work on a drone image calculator, along with some geospatial operations, and is now publicly available in the QGIS plugin repository.

f) Minor on-going projects and outreach.

  1. We maintain a Pinterest board (https://pin.it/4DWD1gP) where our work on conservation cartography is publicly available.
  2. We continue to write on our processes and projects on our organisation blog.
  3. We produced and play-tested a game depicting the spatial components of human-elephant conflict at ATREE’s 25th Anniversary event.
  4. We continue to present our work using technology for conservation at webinars and in live seminars.
    (i) On conservation cartography in Goa and on our spatial analysis-support for the #SaveMollem campaign at the Liberty & Light Festival in Goa (May 2022).
    (ii) On informing and amplifying use of tech in conservation webinar hosted by the Rainmatter Foundation (June 2022).
    (iii) On the use of technology in conservation practice and innovation at the Engineering for Change (E4C) webinar (October 2022).
    (iv) We’ll be participating in a panel discussion at the Wildscreen Festival in Bangalore on the 22nd of October 2022.

3) Any challenges

We were unable to execute our joint project in Odisha with WWF-India and Dakshin Foundation, on the use of UAVs for Olive ridley turtle conservation, as the Odisha Forest Department did not issue the necessary approvals. We’ll attempt this project again in the next field season.

Regulatory compliance continues to be an administrative burden. We recently switched accountants/auditors, and in combination with Razorpay’s tools, this has reduced the time and effort required for administrative activities.

4) Any new avenues of collaboration (with other Grantees of RCF or other NPO/NGO)

In June, we ran an ODK capacity building workshop for a Sanctuary Asia’s Mud on Boots grantee working on sacred grove conservation. We also produced a map of global killer whale distribution that for Current Conservation, published in Issue 16.2 in August 2022.

In July, in collaboration with researchers from Florida International University, we prepared a map describing the location where a sleeper shark discovered in the western Caribbean. This research paper, including our map, was published in Marine Biology.

In August, The Habitats Trust (THT) and TfW undertook a field trip to Pondicherry to test the usability of ROVs for the survey and data acquisition on coral reefs on Indian coasts.

In September, we used UAVs to map a lake in Bangalore, followed by an online discussion on the use of of UAVs for lake conservation in Bangalore, for Paani.Earth. We also created maps for the Goa Foundation that depict the highway expansion through Mollem National Park; these were submitted in court.

In October, we conducted high-altitude UAV mapping missions in Ladakh in collaboration with IISER-Tirupati’s Scuirid Lab. The objective of this project was to assess whether UAVs could effectively map the habitat and population distribution of marmots and pikas. This is an on-going collaboration. We provided WWF-India with remote support regarding the use of drones in Bihar, to help them locate a designated man-eating tiger.

We have an on-going collaboration with IISER-Bhopal on the use of computer vision for wildlife detection in UAV imagery and video. Our on-going collaboration with Mongabay-India on conservation cartography continues, as does our work with the Wildlife Conservation Trust on dolphin and gharial conservation.

We’ve been in discussions with Fields of View regarding the production of games that help build public awareness regarding conservation trade-offs, and are at the project design stage currently.

5) Highlights from the initiatives being undertaken as part of your organisation

The National Green Tribunal (NGT) has stayed all further construction on the road connecting to Honnavar Port in Uttara Kannada. Mongabay-India’s three-part investigative reporting of environmental norms & the community rights being ignored for the project. TfW contributed to the stories by visualising the areas of impact and misattribution; we’ve been privately informed that our maps were very useful in court.

The Supreme Court’s decisions in April and May on the linear infrastructure projects through Mollem National Park validated our work with the Goa Foundation and the SaveMollem campaign.

Our work using Planet satellite data for monitoring land use change near coastal mangrove and forest ecosystems under the NICFI Program was mentioned on global advancements in science and protected forests.

6) Outcomes you are chasing for the next 6 months (these can remain the same if unchanged since the last update)

We aim to complete our Ghost Gear and Use of UAVs for Conservation projects in the next few weeks. We have usable tools in place for our Clearance Mapper project; as our understanding of the risk environment improves, we will aim to make these tools publicly available. We’ve successfully completed the marmot/pika surveys in Ladakh, and hope to be able to conduct our planned turtle surveys in Odisha in the next 6 months.

7) KPIs (please use this section to let us know of the impact and reach of your work since the last update)

Since our last update, we have new collaborators and projects, as well as many more in development. We plan to conduct an impact assessment of our work over the next year, which we will share in a subsequent update.

8) Can Rainmatter be of help with anything at all

We are now attempting to create a cloud-based media library, that will host all our media in an accessible format. The tech-solution here seems to be to use Amazon Web Services, and Rainmatter’s technical guidance would be useful in this regard.

9) Any additional details you would like to provide

We blog extensively about our work and are also very active on both Twitter and Instagram (@techforwildlife).

10) Please also share any images or videos that you have documented as part of your work

Underwater footage from our recent fieldwork off the coast of Pondicherry, using a remotely operated vehicle to explore deep marine wildlife habitats, is available on Twitter here:

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Absolutely delighted by the updates, thanks much Shashank, and kudos to the entire team!

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