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Winners of AI for Earth Innovation Grants Poised to Address Urgent Environmental Challenges with Creative Use of Technology

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Global Wildlife Conservation (GWC) changed its name to Re:wild in 2021

Global Wildlife Conservation and Microsoft Award Nearly $450,000 Total to Five Cutting-edge Projects with Global Implications

For immediate release

June 8, 2020

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Five projects from around the world have received Microsoft-Global Wildlife Conservation Innovation grants this month for their proposals to use artificial intelligence to better understand the planet and solve pressing environmental issues. The grants will support a range of projects, spanning from the cutting-edge use of technology to monitor human-wildlife conflict in Tanzania to tracking dangerous marine heatwaves, to predicting drinking water shortages in underserved communities.

“Ensuring the health of our planet will require that we consider new solutions from different angles,” said Wes Sechrest, CEO and chief scientist for Global Wildlife Conservation. “While reviewing the applications for this grant, we have been encouraged by the creative minds committed to finding technological solutions that complement and support traditional strategies to protect and restore our wildlands and wildlife. We are excited to see how the winning projects take off in the next year, and how they can be adapted in other places around the world to make a significant difference.”

The AI for Earth Innovation grants program supports applicants in creating and implementing open-source machine-learning models, algorithms and datasets that directly tackle environmental challenges the world faces today in the areas of biodiversity loss, climate change, and water security.

Of the 135 applications submitted, GWC and Microsoft chose five projects that markedly demonstrate work that will lead to the implementation of innovative AI models that address critical environmental issues, can rapidly scale and will create lasting impact beyond the grant period. Proposals could request up to $100,000 for support over one year. This year’s winners will receive a total of nearly $450,000 to implement their solutions.

“We are impressed with the innovative ways that these winning projects are leveraging technology to tackle environmental challenges,” said Bonnie Lei, head of Global Strategic Partnerships for Microsoft AI for Earth. “There is great potential for other conservationists to use what these grantees develop to advance their own work. We look forward to working with the grantees to help scale their open solutions on the cloud.”

The Microsoft-GWC AI for Earth Innovation grant winners are:

Conservation Resource Centre: As animals and people are pushed closer together, they are increasingly coming into conflict with one another, resulting in death and injury to people and animals, including endangered species, and economic loss. The grant will support the use of artificial intelligence in aerial surveys of wildlife and human activity, enabling more frequent, accurate and less costly habitat monitoring. This project will help conservationists in Tanzania predict the most likely places for human-wildlife conflicts, allowing them to inform decision makers of potential conflict and develop prevention strategies.

University of Washington: As the planet’s climate continues to warm, the ocean is absorbing and storing excess heat, resulting in extreme events called marine heatwaves that cause coral bleaching, fish population decline and the mortality of marine life. This project will use AI to track marine heatwaves and aid scientists in better understanding their impacts and, ultimately, develop methods to predict how heatwaves will evolve, informing disaster and emergency responders who can help mitigate the effects of future events.

Leadership Counsel for Justice and Accountability: About 1.5 million residents of California’s Central Valley rely on private domestic wells for drinking water, and many of these wells can, and oftentimes do, fail during drought or as the result of unsustainable groundwater management. This project will employ AI to predict how groundwater level changes will impact domestic well failure and provide estimated information on drinking water shortages for underserved populations. Decision makers and local agencies can use this information to prevent well failure and inform water resource management and planning.

University of California, Merced: With the world’s biodiversity facing threats from human-driven habitat change, this project will deliver an important solution to aid conservation efforts by developing a machine learning method to automate the classification of biological sounds from audio recordings. A companion project to the NASA-funded Soundscapes to Landscapes, a citizen science project using low-cost sound recorders for efficient biodiversity monitoring, this project will help researchers understand rapid human-driven landscape changes and their impacts to biodiversity, for the development of more effective conservation measures.

University of St. Andrews: Despite their essential role in maintaining ecosystem health, Africa’s scavenger species are frequently poisoned due to conflict with livestock owners and the activity of poachers. This grant will support scaling up of a successful anti-poisoning project in Namibia, which uses AI to analyze spatial and behavioral data of vultures fitted with GSM/satellite tags, in order to identify the location of carcasses where scavengers and carnivores are feeding. Rapid notification of feeding events across large landscapes will allow field professionals to quickly find poisoned carcasses, remove fresh crime scene evidence and reduce contamination and death of endangered species.

In addition to financial support, these grant recipients will receive complimentary technical support and resources needed to develop and deploy their AI solutions on Microsoft Azure.

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Photo: Deploying small AudioMoth recorders in the field in Sonoma County as part of the  University of California, Merced’s project. (Photo courtesy of University of California, Merced)

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Global Wildlife Conservation

GWC conserves the diversity of life on Earth by safeguarding wildlands, protecting wildlife and supporting guardians. We maximize our impact through scientific research, biodiversity exploration, habitat conservation, protected area management, wildlife crime prevention, endangered species recovery, and conservation leadership cultivation. Learn more at https://globalwildlife.org

Microsoft AI for Earth

AI for Earth is a $50 million, 5-year program that brings the full advantage of Microsoft technology to those working to solve global environmental challenges in the key focus areas of climate, agriculture, water and biodiversity. Through grants that provide access to cloud and AI tools, opportunities for education and training on AI and investments in innovative, scalable solutions, AI for Earth works to advance sustainability across the globe. Learn more at https://www.microsoft.com/ai/ai-for-earth

Contact

Lindsay Renick Mayer

Global Wildlife Conservation

lrenickmayer@globalwildlife.org

512-686-6225

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