New York, NY — The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and the Allen Institute for AI (AI2) are partnering to equip governmental and non-governmental organizations with advanced artificial intelligence (AI) technology to protect our oceans. Following the signing of the Biodiversity Beyond National Jurisdiction Agreement (BBNJ) at the New York UN SDG Summit, the partnership will help fast-track the effective and equitable implementation of the agreement.
The remoteness and vastness of the high seas present a unique challenge for countries planning to establish and monitor marine protected areas (MPAs) under the BBNJ Agreement – also known as the UN High Seas Treaty. Together, IUCN, a global authority on conservation with over 1,400 member organisations, and AI2, a non-profit research institute building AI for the common good, will give developing countries interested in carrying out the Treaty access to AI2’s monitoring and analysis software, Skylight, at no cost, ensuring equitable implementation of the High Seas Treaty in the Global South and beyond. Countries will also receive technical assistance, capacity building, and policy advice from IUCN.
Skylight, which over 300 organisations use in nearly 70 countries, combines satellite technology and AI to deliver automated monitoring and detection capabilities to assist in tackling illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing. With the ability to process and analyse millions of data points daily, the platform also provides policymakers and MPA managers with near real-time and historical intelligence to inform conservation actions.
“The high seas account for nearly two-thirds of the global ocean. Without more protection and better enforcement of these areas, the ocean’s resilience to climate change and its capacity to provide vital resources for human survival is at risk,” said Minna Epps, Head of IUCN’s Ocean Team.
“AI2 and IUCN will work at the technology and policy nexus, deploying cutting-edge technology and world-class policy expertise to promote early BBNJ Treaty implementation. AI2’s Skylight platform is not only a powerful tool, but it can also help promote equity in terms of fair and equal access to data and information for the effective management of marine protected areas,” she added.
“AI will be an important part of the solution required to effectively monitor and manage high seas and marine protected areas,” said Ted Schmitt, Senior Director of Skylight at AI2. “By combining powerful AI applications, including computer vision and machine learning, with remote satellite data, we will empower developing countries with an essential intelligence and analysis tool needed to safeguard these crucial areas for the long term.”
“Today, Skylight is accelerating the way organisations use AI to tackle the crisis of IUU fishing, which causes an estimated USD 23.5 billion annually in economic losses. Rolling out Skylight will help advance how countries – and marine protected area planners and managers – make data-driven decisions, which will be critical to delivering on the promise of the new High Seas Treaty,” stated Schmitt.
The BBNJ Agreement, which has been in the making for almost two decades, provides a global framework for protecting marine areas and species, assessing the impact of human activities, providing technology transfer and capacity building, and ensuring the equitable sharing of benefits from marine genetic resources.
Skylight will help strengthen the implementation of the treaty, which also specifically calls for the “development and transfer of marine technology, including technological tools for effective monitoring, control, and surveillance of activities,” among other actions.
The BBNJ Agreement was opened for signature on September 20, 2023, at the United Nations Headquarters – starting the process for nations to ratify it into their own laws. At least 60 UN Member States must ratify the treaty for it to come into force.
Select photography and images of the Skylight platform are available here.
IUCN is a membership Union uniquely composed of both government and civil society organisations. It provides public, private and non-governmental organisations with the knowledge and tools that enable human progress, economic development and nature conservation to take place together.
Created in 1948, IUCN is now the world’s largest and most diverse environmental network, harnessing the knowledge, resources and reach of more than 1,400 Member organisations and around 15,000 experts. It is a leading provider of conservation data, assessments and analysis. Its broad membership enables IUCN to fill the role of incubator and trusted repository of best practices, tools and international standards.
IUCN provides a neutral space in which diverse stakeholders including governments, NGOs, scientists, businesses, local communities, Indigenous peoples’ organisations and others can work together to forge and implement solutions to environmental challenges and achieve sustainable development.
Working with many partners and supporters, IUCN implements a large and diverse portfolio of conservation projects worldwide. Combining the latest science with the traditional knowledge of local communities, these projects work to reverse habitat loss, restore ecosystems and improve people’s well-being.
About the Allen Institute for AI
The Allen Institute for AI (AI2) is a non-profit research institute founded in 2014 with the mission of conducting high-impact AI research and engineering in service of the common good. AI2 is the creation of the late Paul G. Allen, philanthropist and Microsoft co-founder, and is led by Dr Ali Farhadi.