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An artificial intelligence buoy that comes to protect whales

Global Goals & Global Society
An artificial intelligence buoy that comes to protect whales

Since October 13, the artificial intelligence buoy that aims, through the conservation of cetaceans, to advance in the mitigation of climate change has been observed in the Chilean Patagonia.

One of the characteristics of Chile is its 4,500 kilometers of extension, along with its long coastline towards the Pacific Ocean. In fact, a quarter of its population lives in a coastal area, so the country is considered 'ocean-dependent'.

South of Chile, in Patagonia, lies the Corcovado Gulf, an area that constantly receives tourists from all over the world due to its location in the southernmost regions of the planet and its proximity to the Chiloé archipelago, known for its unique architecture, with a series of churches made of wood.

However, perhaps the most special thing about this gulf is the fact that it is one of the four meeting points that concentrates the largest number of whales, especially blue whales. It is in this area of Chile where they gather to feed and raise their offspring, probably because of the nutritious water, thanks to the contribution of Antarctica, the Humboldt Current and freshwater rivers.

However, due to the complications of land transport for the interconnection between the islands in this area of Patagonia, maritime traffic is emerging as a strong alternative, directly threatening the integrity of the whales.

There is a risk of collision with some of them and the risk of noise pollution that causes hearing damage that hinders communication between the organisms that live in the sea.

It is precisely for this reason that The Blue BOAT Initiative project was born, ten years ago, through a collaborative work between the MERI Foundation, the Ministry of Environment of the Chilean government and the Laboratory of Bioacoustic Applications of the Polytechnic University of Catalonia.

The Blue BOAT Initiative

"Whales play a fundamental role in mitigating climate change. That makes them key candidates to be a species to conserve," Sonia Español, executive director of the MERI Foundation and creator of The Blue BOAT Initiative project, points out.

The ocean is one of the great mitigators of global warming, absorbing 30% of CO2 emissions.

In this sense, whales accumulate much of the carbon in their bodies and, when they die, they usually sink to the bottom of the sea, making the ocean one of the largest existing carbon stores.

How does it work?

The smart buoy sends messages to a satellite which, in turn, relays them to an early warning station, which then informs the vessels in that sector.

Similarly, the MERI Foundation plans to contact all shipping companies to explain in detail the importance of whale conservation and therefore has a positive impact on the achievement of certain Sustainable Development Goals. "We firmly believe that if these companies know how this buoy works and its purpose, they will probably be much more willing to reduce speed or even change course a little so as not to collide with the whale," says Sonia Español.

The aim is not only to avoid a collision, but also to reduce the noise generated by the vessels, with negative consequences such as hearing damage or even the death of the whales.

Also, among other properties of this new technology is that of monitoring the state of health of the oceans. The buoys have sensors for temperature, pH, salinity, nutrients and dissolved oxygen, which record variations and then serve as indicators of the progress of climate change.

Project for the future

"For us it has been very important, because we have been checking daily, remotely that indeed the buoy is collecting oceanographic information, as we had planned," she says.

The Blue BOAT Initiative opened two websites for scientists who want to analyze the new data. However, ordinary people can also log in and listen in real time to the underwater sound in the Gulf of Corcovado, as well as analyze hourly water temperature variations.

The executive director of the MERI Foundation also confirmed that other countries are already interested in the initiative, such as Uruguay, Panama and Portugal.

Mainly because the artificial intelligence buoy also makes it possible to discover unknown areas in the depths of the sea, since it can actually listen to everything that happens in the ocean.

Michelle Bachelet's former Minister of the Environment, Marcelo Mena, pointed out that this type of initiative is part of Chile's carbon-neutrality plan for 2050.

There is still the installation of another five intelligent buoys in the Corcovado Gulf sector, which will be done gradually during the remainder of 2022 and next year.

Without preserving and protecting the Earth's ecology, human well-being cannot be achieved. A transformation in how people view, manage, and utilize oceans, seas, and marine resources will be necessary if the global society is to preserve the quality of life that the oceans have given to humankind while maintaining the integrity of their ecosystems.


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