Location: Kalaweit Gibbon Sanctuary, Indonesia
It’s startling to think of a world without forests, but this could be the reality within a century if current logging practices persist. Not only does forest loss pose a threat in terms of destroyed habitats, disruptions in the water cycle, and desertification, but it also contributes to climate change, with an estimated 17% of greenhouse gas emissions coming from deforestation. Government regulation has tried to curb our insatiable gobbling up of forests, but illegal logging, which accounts for the majority of rainforest destruction, has rendered laws largely impotent.
Governments’ inability to stop illegal logging comes from a simple fact: we can’t regulate what we can’t see. The most common technologies to track deforestation and illegal loggers are satellites and aerial photography, but for enforcement purposes, these are painfully weak tools. Rainforest Connection, or RFCx, has seen this problem and is pioneering a solution that’s a little more down to earth, so to speak. Their approach employs used cell phones and transforms them into solar-powered, camouflaged listening devices. The devices are hidden high up in trees where their solar panels can receive light and where loggers can’t find and disable them. From that vantage point, the devices can monitor sound within a kilometer radius, or about a square mile per device. RFCx’s software parses their devices’ input for the distinct sound of chainsaws, and, after activity is detected, alerts local enforcement agents to the presence and location of loggers. Authorities can then intervene, whether that entails making arrests or escorting loggers from protected land. This system also has the potential to reduce corruption by creating accountability for law enforcement, as there’s a record of when they have been alerted that can be compared to the record of actual responses. Rainforest Connection also plans to develop an app to make audio feeds from their devices available to the public in order to increase awareness of illegal logging and let the world listen in on the unique sounds of the rainforest. Currently, this service is available through the company’s Kickstarter page.
RFCx ran their first field test in the Kalaweit Gibbon Sanctuary in Sumatra, Indonesia, a heavily protected forest reserve that nonetheless has significant trouble with loggers. Within a day of installation, their unit detected loggers and led them to intervene and stop the illegal activity, verifying their concept. Now the company is working on their next pilot program in equatorial Africa, where RFCx will partner with the Zoological Society of London to monitor and regulate the rainforest. Their successful Kickstarter, which garnered almost 3,000 backers, will help them towards this goal, as well as towards future goals like using their technology to regulate poachers. As RFCx’s ingenious devices continue to be implemented, they can ensure that every time a tree falls in the forest, it will make a sound.
Environmental Impact: Avoided deforestation, reduced CO2 emissions, and preserved biodiversity
Measurement: Rainforest Connection
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