Why it matters
SDG 14 centres on the conservation and sustainable use of oceans, seas and marine resources. Oceans support all life on the planet and help to regulate the global climate system. However, levels of ocean degradation are increasing – by 2050, it is expected there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish and by 2100, a 100–150% rise in acidity will affect half of all marine life.
SDG 15 seeks to protect, restore and promote sustainable use of our terrestrial ecosystem. It calls for sustainable management of forests, the combatting of desertification, and a halt and reverse of land degradation and biodiversity loss. One-fifth of the earth’s land area is affected by land degradation, while the proportion of forest area fell from 31.9% of total land area to 31.2% in the last 20 years, a net loss of 100 million hectares.
The industry contribution
Mobile technology contributes to SDG 14 by providing technical platforms that act as channels to capture and enable access to information. Machine-to-machine and sensor-driven services support SDG 15 in the restoration and sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems.
Sustainably managing and enabling the protection of life under water
Target 14.2: By 2020, sustainably manage and protect marine and coastal ecosystems to avoid significant adverse impacts, including by strengthening their resilience, and take action for their restoration in order to achieve healthy and productive oceans.
Target 14.4: By 2020, effectively regulate harvesting and end overfishing, illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing and destructive fishing practices and implement science-based management plans, in order to restore fish stocks in the shortest time feasible, at least to levels that can produce maximum sustainable yield as determined by their biological characteristics.
Mobile technology contributes to supporting life below water through digital software and mobile devices that monitor the surface. While signal propagation degrades under water, the mobile industry enables improvements in the functioning of coastal ecosystems. It also provides technical platforms on which cost-effective biodiversity-monitoring solutions are built. This is particularly important for small island developing states (SIDS), least developed states and artisanal fishers.
For instance, software solutions such as interactive dashboards contribute to the monitoring of sustainable fishing practices while push and pull content (push content refers to small messages delivered to relevant consumers without interaction from them, while pull content refers to data or information that users proactively seek out or submit to NRM organisations or authorities) also helps to clean and prevent ocean pollution and preserve marine species. Additionally, data visualisation software and AI in combination with the use of drones enable marine counter-poaching and marine habitat protection. To prevent illegal fishing in the Seychelles, the FishGuard project has implemented drones with preprogrammed AI to register types of ships present on water and establish which vessels are authorised to fish. This enables authorities to access information such as vessel location and identification number. FishGuard is a scalable solution that can be adapted further to protect the sustainability of oceans and it is able to monitor millions of square kilometres, decreasing patrolling costs while increasing efficiency.
Palau (Gabon and Costa Rica): combatting illegal fishing
The waters surrounding the islands of Palau (over 250 islands) provide the habitat for more than 1,300 species of fish and 700 species of coral. However, illegal fishing and marine poaching activities endanger life underwater and deplete fish populations. In 2012, Palau’s Rock Islands Southern Lagoon was added to the UNESCO list of World Heritage sites. The Palau government is committed to safeguarding its local waters and to eliminating 80% of fishing in its exclusive economic zone (EEZ) by 2020.
In 2018, the Palau government announced its partnership with Vulcan’s SkyLight. Using satellite imagery and data analysis software, SkyLight helps the Palau government, and other countries, spot and catch unlicensed fishing boats. It uses advanced machine learning and a vessel database, in addition to satellite analytics, to provide maritime intelligence. Through its Alerting Platform and Watchfloor solution, SkyLight aids enforcement in countries with thousands of miles of coastlines where resources are scarce, such as those in the Pacific Islands. The project was also extended to Gabon and Costa Rica.
In the first 20 days of the partnership, SkyLight’s software detected dark vessels that had turned off their location devices despite operating in or just outside the EEZ of Palau. Further, it found that 84% of all vessels were not transmitting their automatic identification system (AIS) signals. According to the International Maritime Organization, all ships of 300 gross tonnage and upwards engaged on international voyages, cargo ships of 500 gross tonnages and upwards not engaged on international voyages and all passenger ships irrespective of size are required to be fitted an AIS, effective since December 2004.
Natural resource management to protect, restore and conserve ecosystems
Target 15.1: By 2020, ensure the conservation, restoration and sustainable use of terrestrial and inland freshwater ecosystems and their services, in particular forests, wetlands, mountains and drylands, in line with obligations under international agreements.
Target 15.2: By 2020, promote the implementation of sustainable management of all types of forests, halt deforestation, restore degraded forests and substantially increase afforestation and reforestation globally.
Mobile-enabled technologies, such as satellite imagery, AI and IoT, together with the expansion of mobile broadband coverage, smartphone penetration and web-based dashboards, offer new opportunities to support governments, organisations and communities to protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems. These technologies can significantly improve the efficiency, responsiveness and efficacy of natural resource management efforts, which promote the sustainable use of the planet’s natural resources on land, including forests, watersheds and a diversity of plant and animal species. For instance, a Cisco-supported project in South Africa saw the elimination of rhino-poaching activity in one game reserve through biometric scanning, a point-to-point reserve area network and CCTV cameras.
Sustainable forest management is critical for areas that host significant biodiversity. Systems such as acoustic and video monitoring in real time enable the prevention of deforestation. In the Peruvian Amazon, this was achieved by preventing illegal mining, a main driver of deforestation, through the use of smartphone applications, as real-time monitoring enabled local law enforcement to capture illegal miners using heavy machinery and dangerous chemicals. Similarly, illegal logging accounts for 50–90% of timber trade in tropical countries, but detecting chainsaws and other sounds related to human activity is challenging. In many countries, including Brazil, Costa Rica, Indonesia and the Philippines, upcycled Huawei smartphones are used and connected to solar panels and microphones to become “Rainforest Guardians”. These support law enforcement through real-time alerts and also positively impact forest cover.
The Philippines and Malaysia: harnessing real-time data to restore mangroves
In Malaysia, mangroves are vital to the ecosystem, as they protect coastline villages and riverbanks. In particular, they are essential in the protection from tsunamis and flooding.
The Pampanga River in the Philippines is also home to mangrove forests. These forests provide the habitat for a range of species and act as natural shields against tropical weather for coastal communities, where local fishermen can face up to 20 typhoons a year.
Over time, deforestation, pollution and industrial processes have destroyed many trees, endangering local communities and causing a drastic decrease in wildlife populations. This also hinders the fight against climate change, since mangroves catch CO2 with their roots.
In partnership with local operators and a host of ecosystem partners (including Smart Communications and edotco), Ericsson began a restoration project in Malaysia in 2016, which was expanded to the Philippines in 2017. The Connected Mangroves project uses cloud, M2M and mobile broadband technologies, combined with solar-powered sensors and real-time camera footage, to collect critical data. This information is then distributed through a digital dashboard to local communities to check on water, soil and humidity conditions, and remotely monitor any intrusion on the site.
In the Philippines, there have been recorded increases in the size of fishermen’s catches and the number of migratory birds returning to the area. Black-faced spoonbills, a species of coastal bird classified as endangered in 2000 and last seen in the Pampanga river 100 years ago, were spotted flying there again in early 2019. The fishermen can now also monitor the water and weather conditions to avoid typhoons. Meanwhile, mangrove survival rates in Malaysia have soared from 30% to 80% as a result of the project.
Source: Digital Dividends in Natural Resource Management, GSMA, 2020
Maximising impact by 2030
Enablers that could help maximise the mobile industry’s impact on SDG 14 and SDG 15 include the following:
- Scaling the deployment of IoT. Devices used for high-frequency use cases are becoming widely available, but those for less common activities (e.g. water catchment management, wetland management, marine habitat protection and restoration) are produced in low volumes, preventing economies of scale.
- Increasing access and affordability of connectivity in the most remote locations (e.g. forests). This remains a challenge as GSM networks are still underrepresented in remote locations where these types of projects are implemented.
- Scaling the ecosystem of natural resource management stakeholders, including NRM organisations (Includes global/local non-profit organisations, social enterprises, privately-owned nature reserves, NRM speciality services organisations), digital technology organisations, local communities and government.