Saving the Planet with Mobile Phones

Saving the Planet with Mobile Phones

Mobile phone ownership continues to grow, even in underdeveloped countries. A mobile phone is without doubt the easiest, the most popular way to communicate, no matter where you live.  As more people get smartphone models, they can enjoy more features that are not found in ordinary mobile phones. Visionaries are finding ways to adapt these functions to help with environmental efforts.

Smartphones can run more apps, take better photos, connect to the internet and perform other functions.  With these features at their disposal, environmentalists are finding more and more ways to use their smartphonesto help save the planet.

Mobile phones as tracking devices

Many mobile phones are relocated, which allows them to continuously provide the geographic location of the user. This capability has made mobile devices able to:

  • Track animal movements
    Zoologists gain a better understanding of animals by tracking their movements with mobile phones.
  • Monitor illegal wildlife trade and poachers
    Illegal wildlife trade kills not only animals but wildlife rangers too. Wildlife specialists are improving the way they handle the problem with the help of mobile phone apps as shown in the following examples:

    • WildScan – a mobile app from Freeland Foundation is used to combat wildlife trafficking. WildScan was created for the use of wildlife conservation officers, the general public and enforcement agencies to report freshwater, marine and terrestrial animals that are being traded illegally.WildScan allows users to take photos and report wildlife crime privately or publicly to Southeast Asia’s law enforcement authorities through the ASEAN Wildlife Enforcement Network (ASEAN-WEN).
    • 110 million mobile phones in Viet Nam get messages from the country’s three major mobile phone service companies to remind the owners that they should not buy rhino horns.
    • Hejje is a mobile phone app that can take photos and instantly submit them to the authorities as real-time information. It is used by the staff patrolling the anti-poaching camps. The information reported is encrypted to make them inaccessible to unauthorized people.
  • Monitor illegal logging:
    At least 50 percent of rainforest logging is illegal. Here are two examples of how mobile phones help against illegal logging:

    • Helveta, a British company, created plastic barcodes that forest companies attach to the logs. The barcode is scanned by a mobile phone and the image is sent to a database that is accessible throughout the supply chain. Any tree delivered to a lumber mill without a tracked barcode is considered illegal.This method may not prevent illegal logging in the near future. However, if it is difficult for illegal loggers to monetize their logs, they may lose interest in their logging “venture.”
    • Topher White of the Rainforest Connection created a network of monitoring devices using recycled cell phones with antenna and powered by solar panels. The phones in waterproof cases aremounted all over the forest. They can detect, locate, record and report various sounds accompanying the illegal activity such as the sound of chainsaws, truck engines, gunfire and explosions within a mile for analysis to a cloud server.The monitoring network can also text authorities so they can take appropriate action. This is a preventive device as it catches illegal loggers while they are just starting to cut trees. This monitoring network is used in Indonesia, Peru, Cameroon, Brazil and Ecuador.
  • Monitor the oceans:
    Illegal fishing continues to be a huge global problem. Solutions are hampered because a lot of data collected and available is not used in ocean-related businesses, recreation and conservation.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) launched a mobile phone app development competition- the XPRIZE Ocean Initiative. The competition was launched to “encourage app developers and data scientists to work toward a future where the world’s ocean data is available at our fingertips, visualized in a user-friendly and meaningful way.”

NOAA announced the following as the winners in seven categories:

  • Navisea(Shipping and Trade) – the app for “for planning and tracking ocean voyages, and includes data on traffic, ports, docks, navigation and weather.”
  • FishAngler(Fishing) – to allow recreational fishermen to record new spots discovered and other fishing experiences.
  • SeaStatus Marine Weather(Public Safety, Integrating Multiple Datasets)- the app for the delivery of “personalized marine weather data” that will help keep mariners safe.
  • SeaSee(Exploration, Education) – the app for the exploration of the ocean floor.
  • SOpHIE (the Surface Ocean pH Interactive Explorer)(Ocean Acidification) – this app delivers information about ocean acidification of a given site.
  • Chile es Mar(Judge’s Award) – provides information needed by scientists, fishermen and seafood buyers.
  • Endangered Waves(Conservation) – the app that allows surfers to monitor the hazards in their coastlines.

Alerts to avoid animals

Millions of animals die each year from road vehicles. More data are needed to identify roadkill hotspots. Citizens could help if they could provide data through a mobile phone app.

The data would be used in a navigation system that would warn car drivers the location where certain animals will most likely cross the roads. The method is already used to prevent ship collision.

Whales can also die from a ship strike. Mobile phones have helped monitor whale movements. The Whale Alert app uses automatic vessel identification systems to monitor and provide real-time information on vessel movements. The combined data about whale and ship movements help protect whales from any ship strike.

Doing our part

Mobile phones do a lot to help save the planet. But they also contain toxic substances that can harm the environment. It is absolutely vital to dispose of your mobile phones properly and keep them away from any possibility of ending up in a landfill. Many mobile and electronics stores in Australia have recycle bins for old phones, and many new phones come with a “postage paid” bag to send your phone back. It’s not hard to ensure your phone doesn’t add to environmental problems.

Mobile phones are already widely used in activities meant to save the planet. There are still a lot of ways and developments to make mobile phones more effective not only in data collection but also in helping protect the planet.  With so much at stake, every mobile phone owner should take time to think, “How could I use my mobile phone to contribute to conservation efforts?”



Neil Aitken

Having worked in 3 countries for 4 telcos on both voice and data products, Neil is in a position to give you the inside track. Get beyond the marketing messages to the best plan for you.