Big Brother May Be the Savior of Life on Earth

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Just over two hundred years ago, American Naturalist John James Audubon tied some string to a bird’s leg to see if it would come back the following year.

That following spring, he was amazed to see the exact same bird – still wearing his identifiable bit of cloth.

We’ve come a long way from wrapping colorful bits of thread on living things to learn about them.

Scientists have been using metal bands, some with repeating signals picked up by satellites orbiting our planet. Others use more sophisticated technologies, which allow researchers to track migration patterns using Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) technologies and their mobile devices.

Perhaps the Big Brother-like GPS spying abilities of our mobile devices may save life on Earth by helping us better understand our impact on other living things.

There are many companies, which manufacture Global Positioning System (GPS) tracking devices for birds, and even land-based wild animals such as deer and caribou.

These devices are typically battery-powered collars that can be wrapped around a bird’s leg or an animal’s neck. They use the latest in GPS and GSM cellular networking technologies, allowing researchers to follow the birds and animals wherever they go on the planet, from the comfort of their labs.

Using these tracking technologies gives scientists accurate, real-time information about the migration patterns of these species, which can help the researchers preserve and protect them from becoming endangered or worse – extinct.

Scientists have used this tracking technology to determine where herds of caribou give birth, allowing them to work with governments to protect those habitats. This protects the herd – and helps keep the species from becoming extinct – by not forcing the caribou to find an alternative place to raise their young.

Since the British Petroleum (BP) oil spill in the spring of 2010, GPS tracking devices have become more widely used in the Gulf of Mexico to better track and protect wildlife from massive catastrophes which we humans may cause. If more of the wildlife had been trackable back then, they may have more quickly and easily been found, before they succumbed to their injuries from the oil spill.

Big Brother’s reach isn’t limited to land and air, but can also be found deep underwater.

Since 2004, Norpac Fisheries Export has been using their own electronic monitoring system to track each fish the company captures and sells. They use this Big Brother-like technology to prevent overfishing, and to ensure their fish were not caught using illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing practices.

The fish are monitored as soon as the ship docks. The fishing crew tags each fish with a barcode and records detailed information about the volume, time of day and species caught. Using RFID technology, a Velcro strap with a chip is wrapped around each fish’s tail. Norpac has boats nearby, monitoring the RFID frequency they use, to ensure the fish are captured in legal fishing areas, and not protected waters, where fishing has been banned.

Essentially, their RFID and barcode tracking devices makes fishing vessels, their captains and crews accountable for their actions.

Governments and farmers are getting into GPS tracking tech too, to protect their crops.

The Canadian government has about 32 GPS satellites orbiting the globe at over 19,000 KM (11,806 miles) above, to provide information to farmers about the migratory patterns of insects. The farmers use this information to spray only the specific plots of land which are infected, rather than their entire fields – cutting down on the amount of chemicals used in growing our foodstuffs.

Whitehorse station of Canada’s ground-based GPS tracking network.
Whitehorse station of Canada’s ground-based GPS tracking network / Natural Resources Canada

This sort of farming is known as precision agriculture, and deploys numerous technologies to help farmers manage specific sections of their farm, instead of applying a blanket solution to their entire fields.

Other applications include measuring the soil moisture for specific sections of the farm, so that farmers only need to water the areas which need them, instead of wasting water on areas that don’t require it.

Precision farming even tells farmers when the climate is less of a strain for them, so they don’t work during the driest and hottest part of the day, or the coldest and wettest.

Big Brother may be watching, but that’s a good thing when it comes to preserving life on Earth, be it the birds in the air, those with hoofed feet on the land, or even those with scales underwater.

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