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Vodacom and WWF to pilot AI early warning system to help protect marine mammals

8th December 2023

By: Natasha Odendaal

Creamer Media Senior Deputy Editor

     

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Connectivity, digital and financial services company Vodacom South Africa and the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) South Africa have joined forces to pilot artificial intelligence- (AI-) based solutions to safeguard marine mammals against entanglement.

The new initiative is being piloted in Saldanha Bay, in the Western Cape, after which the AI-based technology solution can be expanded to other coastal areas and fisheries.

“In South Africa, our coastal waters play a vital role in contributing to our socioeconomic growth through industrial operations and tourism but also to our environment, hosting a diversity of species and minimising the adverse effects of climate change events,” says Vodacom South Africa CEO Sitho Mdlalose.

“As part of our commitment to ensuring we have a healthy planet for generations to come and accelerating the Sustainable Development Goals set by the United Nations, Vodacom has been working with the WWF to help conserve this precious resource through our capabilities as a technology provider.”

As traditional fishing communities struggle with challenges resulting from overfishing, pollution and climate change, a sustainable, green-listed alternative has been the development of off-shore, rope-grown mussel farms, which provide both a low-impact, protein-rich source of seafood, along with employment and economic development.

However, the potential risk of entanglement of marine mammals, including whales, remains, and Vodacom, in partnership with WWF South Africa, aims to deploy AI-based technology solutions, leveraging cameras and hydrophones, to alert mussel farmers to whales in the Saldanha Bay Aquaculture Development Zone (ADZ) and activate the ADZ Incident and Emergency Response Protocol in case of an entanglement.

“Rope-grown mussels are a fantastic source of sustainable seafood. All efforts to ensure that this industry remains on our WWF Southern African Sustainable Seafood Initiative (WWF-SASSI) green list are to be welcomed. We are delighted that Vodacom has chosen to put the time, efforts and resources into this pilot project, which has great potential to scale elsewhere in other ADZs around the coast,” says WWF South Africa WWF-SASSI manager Pavitray Pillay.

Whales have a vital role to play in the overall health of the marine environment and each great whale sequesters an estimated average of 33 t of carbon dioxide, playing an important role in the fight against climate change.

However, six out of the 13 great whale species are classified as endangered or vulnerable, even after decades of protection.

In addition to preventing whale entanglements, the early warning system will also be used to gather scientific data by recording the movement of marine life and could help to prevent ship strikes for other superpods, such as seals and dolphins.

This project builds on the significant role digital technology already plays in the sustainable seafood supply chain and ocean stewardship, with Vodacom’s collaboration with the WWF in developing digital tools to support the WWF-SASSI being used to drive ocean conservation, sustainable seafood consumption and ocean literacy.

Edited by Martin Zhuwakinyu
Creamer Media Senior Deputy Editor

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