AI for Conservation
Collaboration with Microsoft
The Nature Conservancy is partnering with Microsoft to address the world’s most pressing issues in ocean, coastal, floodplain, and watershed environments through the expansion of The Nature Conservancy’s Natural Solutions Toolkit. The Toolkit represents the Conservancy’s largest suite of geospatial tools and web applications for climate adaptation and resilience planning, and Microsoft has committed to leverage this technology on their Azure cloud platform to promote growth and innovative collaboration in Artificial Intelligence (AI).
The goals of the collaboration include:
- Evolving Coastal Resilience and Natural Solution Toolkit projects on the Azure cloud by exploring AI capabilities to magnify conservation impacts and nature-based climate adaptation solutions
- Building projects that utilize harness conservation, machine learning and geospatial skills of the Conservancy, Microsoft and Esri
- Enabling the Conservancy to leverage the Data Science Virtual Machine (DVSM) as part of the Azure cloud architecture and support its geospatial expansion
This relationship builds on a long history of support and strategic collaboration between the three organizations. In line with Microsoft’s environmental mission to empower people and organizations globally to thrive in a resource-constrained world, Microsoft has committed to support the Conservancy’s spatial data and tools on the Azure cloud for three years. This corresponds to Microsoft’s goal of supporting the development of innovative discoveries through technological advancements. Microsoft and the Conservancy have a shared interest in leveraging Azure-based AI and GIS to expose the value of nature-based solutions to key decision makers across governments, global entities, special interest groups, and the private sector.
The following initial three projects are applying these technologies to better inform conservation and climate adaptation decisions:
- Community Rating System (CRS): to enhance participation in the National Flood Insurance Program’s (NFIP) CRS program, this project will deploy and systematize an ArcGIS model that inputs parcel-scale data (CRS Explorer App) and a Microsoft machine learning algorithm (to decipher land types) to identify current and future open space preservation credit opportunities that translate to reduced flood insurance rates. Geographic focus areas include North Carolina, Florida, South Carolina, Louisiana with key audiences being county and local government as well as coastal communities applying for CRS open space credits
- Mapping Ocean Wealth: to enhance the ability of this global initiative to map ocean ecosystem services, with a focus on travel and tourism. This project will apply AI to the award-winning Recreation and Tourism web app to assess the spatial distribution and extent of travel to coral reef countries and calculate an economic value of tourism. This economic value of coral reefs is calculated by country through the harvesting of crowd-sourced data. Specific geographic focal areas include Micronesia and Caribbean countries and the U.S. state of Florida, with expansion to OECS countries, Haiti, Jamaica, Australia. Key audiences for this application include the World Travel & Tourism Council, the World Bank, and local tourism facilities (i.e., dive shops, hotels).
- Resilient Coastal Cities: as part of a new partnership with the Red Cross and Red Crescent Global Disaster Preparedness Center, the Conservancy is supporting the Red Cross Resilient Coastal Cities project in South Asia to help identify ways that nature can build social and ecological resilience within disaster management. This project will create a dashboard and mobile app that incorporates social media data on flood location and magnitude with socioeconomic and ecological data for city planning, and include mangrove restoration simulations to promote coastal adaptation in Semarang, Indonesia. Geospatial framework and app development is designed to be replicated in other cities in South Asia in the context of disaster preparedness, response, and recovery planning.
We intend to explore and identify emerging natural solutions projects after an initial pilot phase of these three projects.
“Technology accelerates everything it is applied to. It therefore holds the promise to accelerate conservation solutions so that they scale to global environmental challenges. Developing on Azure is a great opportunity for the Conservancy to advance our geospatial decision support tools and web apps that can catalyze conservation and climate adaptation efforts across land and sea.” – Zach Ferdaña, Senior Program Manager for Global Oceans at The Nature Conservancy.
To learn more about the evolving partnership, read this article by Geek Wire’s series on community issues, innovative solutions to societal challenges, and people and non-profit groups making an impact through technology
Collaborative Lighthouse Projects
To enhance the Mapping Ocean Wealth program’s understanding of nature-based coastal tourism, this project will use AI and ArcGIS to assess the spatial distribution and extent of tourism on global reefs through live harvesting of crowd-sourced data.
The Nature Conservancy is partnering with NOAA’s Office of Coastal Management (OCM) to coordinate efforts to meet the goals and objectives of coastal zone management in the U.S. and highlight those actions that also receive credits from FEMA’s Community Rating System (CRS).