We caught up with Sally Hett, a member of the team at EARS (Electronic Automated Reporting System) – Safer Seas for Albatrosses, working to incorporate innovative tracking technology to prevent fishing vessels from accidentally catching albatrosses.
EARS is one of the projects that came out of Lightning Lab Govtech 2018. The Department of Conservation, Ministry for Primary Industries and the Southern Seabirds Solutions Trust approached Lightning Lab GovTech with a challenge: to stop the decline of the Antipodean Wandering Albatross. Since 2005 75% of these majestic birds have been lost and at this rate, in 20 years they will be extinct.
What was the inspiration for EARS – Safer Seas for Albatrosses?
It’s a big nitty issue because it crosses conservation and the international waters and it wasn’t getting the attention it deserved. Albatrosses are so beautiful and we need to give them a voice, because they can’t talk for themselves. When we were looking at the fishing vessels, we realized the importance of finding a way to incentivize the fishing companies to adopt the technology.
We paired the technology with image recognition of the fish. The data collected is sent via Blockchain to the companies head office; this allows them to have useful information on the kind of fish they’re catching, which could help them make a sale before even getting to the port. Matching this functionality with the monitoring of the mitigation that they have to use to protect the birds, makes it a win-win.
What’s going on currently with EARS and what are you working on?
Safer seas had a really big public support after demo day in November and we’re still working through how the Department of Conservation (DOC) and Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) can work together moving forward. It’s slow but it’s getting there.
What are the next steps for EARS?
What’s next is to keep talking with all the stakeholders involved, keeping them up to date with what’s going on. The other big focus is to get the funding we need to buy the technology and test it on a fishing vessel.
How did Lightning Lab Govtech help the Safer Seas for Albatrosses project?
Biodiversity is a top priority for DOC and MPI, but they didn’t have the space to come together and work on it. Lightning Lab GovTech provided that space – we had people from both departments committing time to that issue, like it never happened before. The working space, alongside support from stakeholders and coaches, allowed us to go in new directions and learn from people all around the world and come up with a new solution that we’re hoping to roll out.
It was awesome to be there with the 11 other teams. Working in a collaborative space means that, if you ever have a problem, you can easily ask someone and compare notes. Everyone has ideas on each other’s projects and is happy to share their expertise.
What were the main challenges you encountered during the programme?
We definitely encountered a few challenges along the way! The journey has been up and down, but ultimately very rewarding. Some of the main challenges I can think of are:
- Timing – getting the time to speak to everyone we needed to reach out to, in order to keep moving forward. Three months is super tight and you’ve gotta keep going.
- Teamwork – working together as a team was also a challenge in itself! We had a bootcamp the first week, to help us figure out how to work with each other, and to better understand each other’s strengths and limitations.
What advice would you give to future Lightning Lab GovTech teams?
My advice would be to constantly talk with the teams working in the departments that your project is relevant to and try to meet with them as often as you can. Getting the sponsors onboarding continuously is really important too – make sure to keep the conversation open and do regular check-ins.
Got a fun albatross fact for us?
Albatrosses can soar on their wings for four hours without moving!