SXSWORLD November 2014


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S X S W. C O M | N O V E M B E R 2 0 1 4 | S X S W o r l d 1 9 C O U R T E S Y O F W W F combination of factors, including increased logging at their desti- nation sites, escalating use of pesticides and the resulting dramatic decline in food sources along their migration route. As a result, their numbers have been decimated. Hoekstra sees huge potential in the rapid evolution of easily accessible technology – and in the role of makers and hackers – to drive widescale popular participation in conservation efforts that can reverse the declines among monarchs and other species. "Sophisticated equipment that was once available only to profes- sional researchers in well-funded laboratories is now accessible to entrepreneurs in garage startups and to do-it-yourself hobbyists in community laboratories," he wrote in a March/April 2014 issue of Foreign Affairs. "This accessibility is rapidly accelerating the pace of innovation and expanding the scope of potential applications." Those applications, he believes, are the key to finding the sweet spot where people's abilities and interests intersect with meaningful action to preserve endan- gered species. "The ability to contribute information offers people real empowerment," he says. "With the right tools, local users can make their voices heard. They can report on illegal poaching or logging. With all those eyes on the ground, conservationists can learn so much more about the world, so much more quickly – and we can take action. We can change policies and step up enforcement." Which brings us back to the transformative power of the tiny things. "When you're a kid," says Hoekstra, "you watch what looks like a worm transform into a turquoise chrysalis edged with gold, then turn into a majestic orange and black butterfly. It happens at a very small scale, but it's glorious." The intrinsic attraction of that phenomenon, combined with simple, actionable technologies can similarly transform anyone into a citizen scientist and active conservationist. "Using simple apps and hand- held devices, people report data that can be layered with other sources to help ecologists, conservationists and policymakers devise ways to better protect spe- cies," he explains. "That's exciting. It's motivating. To me, that's how large scale transformation begins – from a very small, but very powerful place." Hoekstra echoes the authors' view of both the urgency of the challenges at hand and of the need to change tradi- tional ecologists' approach to data: "The world is changing so fast. Think of the rhinoceros population; we may see 1,000 rhinos killed this year [out of an estimated 29,000 left in the wild]. If we want to do something that makes a difference now, we can't wait for traditional research models." Citizens empowered with the right applications and technologies can have a major role in accelerating action and encouraging a new view of data as an open, public resource, argues Hoekstra. "Traditional researchers often view the data they've gathered, sometimes over the course of 10 years or more, as currency … something to be protected, not shared. But by enlisting citizen scientists, we can begin to speed up data collection and change that view of data. Moreover, by crowdsourcing information and insights, we create the expectation that data will be open source and that findings will be shared. We enter an implicit contract based on openness." Monarchs, rhinos and citizen scientists Monarch butterflies – the focal point of a hackathon hosted by Hoekstra and W WF at October's SXSW Eco conference – are, like rhinoceros, another radically endangered species. They are also iconic and beloved by people in backyards across North America. Recognizable by their distinctive black and orange markings, mon- archs travel as far as 2,800 miles from their Canadian birthplaces. Along the way, they traverse farmland, and city and suburban com- munities across the U.S. before reaching the piney forests of Mexico's Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve, some 60 miles northwest of Mexico City. Long a commonplace sight in many American com- munities, the butterflies are increasingly rare these days due to a J o n H o e k s t r a

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