Importance of Natural Resources

Wildlife Crime Tech Challenge: New England Aquarium is tackling wildlife trafficking at ports

The illicit wildlife trade is hidden in plain sight in our ports within legally documented shipments… …because there is no system to analyze shipments at the “species per box” level or in real-time. Port inspectors must manually assess shipping invoices for illegal content, hindering the ability to monitor wildlife crimes. My name is Andrew Rhyne and I’m with the New
England Aquarium and Roger Williams University. Our innovation is a platform to be able to
capture shipping documents as they come in to port authorities. That information is captured and it’s digitized
and then it’s analyzed for probability of illegal shipments and so we’re able to give
wildlife inspectors a tool to be able to look at shipments to determine what is in those
shipments at a lot faster rate. Wildlife shipments–currently the documents that are associated with those. they are all on paper and wildlife inspectors
have to look through these paper documents and determine what is in the shipments and
what is legal and what could be illegal. Also if the species are correctly identified,
and if they’re actually from the countries they say they are from. So our solution is able to take a look at
this information digitally, capture that, run it through some databases and actually
do a lot of that analysis for the agents. We’ve been really interested in looking at
the trade in aquarium species for many years, and about seven years ago we embarked on a
process to look at what’s coming into the United States for marine aquarium fish. So most people would probably assume that
the government understands what they’re either shipping out of their country or receive into
their country. In our case what the government knows is they
know that marine tropical fish, or freshwater tropical fish are coming in to the country. They actually don’t know anything about the
species that are coming in the country, so none of that information is actually catalogued,
unless the species is either on the endangered species list or is a CITES listed species. Most of the species in the aquarium trade
are neither of those. So it makes it really impossible to know what’s
coming in. So we started answering that question: what
is coming into the United States, and how much and where’s it coming from. To get to that answer, we have developed a
lot of technology, and part of that technology is what we want to deploy here to be able
to help inspectors look at this information in a more interactive digital way. We’ve got software developed for use to collect
and monitor trade, and we need to be able to innovate past that, develop software that
can predict and analyze shipments for potential fraud or potential illegal trade. That’s going to require some additional support
with what’s called “computer vision” that allows us to actually look at these documents. It’s going to require us to bring in some
support on the analytical side to look at developing some of these algorithms for detecting
new illegal trade. The end user is the agent right now who has
to sort through papers and manually identify those species. We want to develop a product that makes them
a lot more efficient at their jobs. But that requires quite a level of agency
support. In the United States, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife
Service is the agency that is tasked for receiving those incoming wildlife shipments, and so
that’s our target audience. My background really as an aquarist and a scientist it really comes from the fact that I had a fish tank when I was four years old. I spent a lot of time fishing with my dad
when I was younger and that’s where I fell in love with the ocean. So I have a personal connection–I still remember
my first fish! If you ask a group of scientists or anybody
really if they had a fish tank–a lot of people have had fish tanks. We were just at the Smithsonian at the Ocean
Hall yesterday, and just about every kid and family, they came up to that–their new word
for the Blue Tang is “Dory” and their new word for Clown Fish is “Nemo.” There
is so much good that can come from having a fish tank. We like to say it’s a gateway to science. It can be a real source of learning and a
real educational opportunity, but it also can be a disruptive force or destructive force,
and so there’s this kind of dichotomy between the two and I think that’s really important
to talk about, and that’s why we’re so invested in this, is because at the New England Aquarium,
we have a mission to educate the public and conserve the ocean, and our motto is “protecting
the blue planet.” That’s what we like to live up to and I think we’re very much a part
of that solution. My name’s Andrew Rhyne, and I innovate to
save wildlife. Together, we can build a future without wildlife crime For more information or to support the New England Aquarium please contact us: [email protected] | | @wildlife_tech Wildlife Crime Tech Challenge

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