Arizona State University, Conservation International & Thinking Machines win Climate Change AI Innovation Grant to scale climate smart aquaculture
Mangrove forests are critical for both slowing the effects of climate change and helping vulnerable communities adapt to the impacts. Unfortunately, fish and shrimp farming has destroyed as much as 38% of mangroves globally and especially in Southeast Asia, home to at least 45% of the world's blue carbon stocks and producer of over 22% of global aquaculture production.
To address this problem, the global nonprofit Conservation International (CI) has piloted the “Climate Smart Shrimp” program, which helps shrimp farmers to produce more food using less land area, freeing up ponds to be replanted with mangroves. CI estimates that the CSS approach could restore as many as 1.7 million hectares of mangrove forests worldwide — while producing the same amount or even more shrimp.
But one of the biggest hurdles to scaling-out the CSS program is locating the exact shrimp ponds where the CSS program would work. Publicly available aquaculture maps don't have all the information or level of detail that CI needs to determine if a site is suitable for CSS. And with hundreds of thousands of aquaculture sites across Southeast Asia, it is impossible to physically inspect every potential location.
This is where data science can help. Thinking Machines will work with CI to apply computer vision to region-wide satellite imagery to rapidly locate and classify shrimp ponds that are potential candidates for the CSS program. This data will then be combined with other criteria — such as proximity to current or historical mangroves, roads, coastlines, populated areas, and exposure to climate hazards like sea level rise and coastal flooding — to identify the top 40,000 most suitable hectares in Southeast Asia for the CSS program.
The project was awarded a research grant by Climate Change AI (CCAI), a global nonprofit that catalyzes work at the intersection of machine learning and climate change. CCAI’s Innovation Grants Program supports research projects that leverage AI or machine learning to address problems in climate change mitigation, adaptation, or climate science. The grant program is funded by Quadrature Climate Foundation and Schmidt Futures with Canada Hub of Future Earth as the fiscal sponsor. Thinking Machines worked with Conservation International and the Arizona State University School of Sustainability on the proposal, which was one of 13 winners from almost 200 submissions to the grant competition.
The project will take place this 2022 and will produce open-source code, datasets, interactive maps, analyses, and research. It will also leverage Thinking Machines’ Eco-Intelligence Solution, a service that provides cutting-edge data analytics to organizations working to protect and restore nature. This solution helps project developers, funders, and landowners more effectively plan and monitor their environmental initiatives by applying end-to-end analysis to unique environmental datasets derived with AI from the latest earth observation data.
Stay tuned in the coming months as we share updates on the project!
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