Oh, those ever-present cell phones. We use them to make calls, send texts, take photographs, update a Facebook status, maybe tweet here and there. But now they might have a nobler purpose. How? Maybe, just maybe, they can save the world’s rainforests.
That’s the endgame for Topher White, founder of the nonprofit group Rainforest Connection. His idea — harness the capabilities of a network of small, well-hidden cell phones to combat the plague of illegal logging that is decimating the world’s rainforests.
A beta test of his concept began in early June in Indonesia’s western Sumatra. If it works, this idea may be a game changer in the fight against deforestation.
White’s idea is brilliantly simple. Cell phones rigged with solar chargers are installed in trees throughout areas that are likely targets for illegal loggers. The phones, always on, actively monitor the sounds of the jungle and transmit their data to a centralized database.
Just imagine it — as illegal chainsaws grind and roar to life, their unnatural non-jungle sounds transmit through the cell phone. The noises trigger an alert in real time. Forest rangers miles away can spring into action, arriving on scene to catch illegal loggers in the act and shut them down. Trees saved! Loggers captured! And unlimited cell service in Sumatra only costs $2.89 a month! Huzzah!
Indonesia is an ideal location for this project. It may well be the world’s most biologically diverse, species-rich country, according to the Rainforest Action Network. Indonesia’s rainforest is the third largest in the world, just behind the Amazon and Africa’s Congo Basin. Within Indonesia’s rainforests live 17 percent of the world’s bird species, 10 percent of all plant species and 12 percent of all mammal species, including the endangered Sumatran tiger and rhino.
Sadly, these species depend on the rainforest to survive, and Indonesia loses at least a million hectares of rainforest every year. More than half the country’s forest land has been logged out of existence over the last 50 years to support the Indonesian pulp and paper industry.
Rainforest Connection will conduct its pilot project with the help of Kalaweit, an Indonesian conservation group. Together they will place 15 modified cell phones within the Air Tarusan reserve of western Sumatra, spaced far enough apart to cover up to 0.5 kilometers apiece.
As this project initially rolls out, alerts triggered by the cell phones will go only to forest rangers in the area. Eventually, however, White expects to develop a smartphone app that will allow everyone to get a real-time alert when illegal rainforest logging activity is detected. White told New Scientist magazine, “We want to make people feel like they are taking part in the dramatic events on the front lines of environmental protection.”
According to the Rainforest Connection web site, these cell phone networks will turn rainforest surveillance into “a low-cost, crowdsourced, scalable endeavor, and we are able to tap the unlimited resources of a growing worldwide population of tech-savvy eco-enthusiasts.”
Rainforest Connection is eagerly accepting donated Android cell phones for this project. Details can be found on the nonprofit group’s Facebook page. The Rainforest Connection says it will give updates to phone donors who provide contact information. Donors can expect to find out interesting details such as how their old phone is put to work.
Forget “Where’s Waldo.” Where’s your old cell phone? In Indonesia, battling illegal rainforest logging, maybe? Now there’s a conversation starter for your next get-together.
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