In the news: Connecting conservation
Feature article in the Wilderness Society Journal: An Australian, community-based, not-for-profit non-governmental environmental advocacy organisation. Words by Dan Down.
To save animals on the brink like the orange-bellied parrot, conservationists need the right tools to work as effectively as possible. It was something Camille Goldstone-Henry realised was missing in her career working in conservation management. Frustrated by a discord between projects, leading to a waste of resources and time, she is now set to launch an innovative solution. In her words, she reveals how she hopes it will help conservationists collaborate to save our most endangered animals in what is a critical time for biodiversity.
Camille Goldstone-Henry photographed for Wilderness Journal by Derek Henderson @derekhendersonphoto
I always wanted to work with animals, I wanted to make a big difference to our endangered species, not just here in Australia, but around the world. When I finished university, I went straight into full time work with the Zoo and Aquarium Association, where I was the conservation manager for a number of years, working on conservation projects across Australia and New Zealand. Globally, I was involved in some big species management programmes assisting animals like the Sumatran tiger and red panda.
I worked with any endangered species that required a captive breeding component for their recovery, like the greater bilby and orange-bellied parrot. For instance, we thought the Tasmanian devil was going to be completely wiped out by devil facial tumour disease, and so a decision was made in 2006 to start an insurance population in zoos. It was through this work that I saw the critical need for what I’m developing now: Xylo Systems.
One of the biggest problems we have in Australia is not only an increasing rate of endangered species, but also the worst level of mammal extinction in the world. These issues are compounded by a lack of resources, mostly a lack of funding, and then there’s also a lack of collaboration between major stakeholders.
"We are in a biodiversity-loss emergency and so we need to maximise what we're doing with the resources we have." Camille Goldstone-Henry
This was really evident in my time as a conservation manager, where I worked across Australia on some really prominent conservation projects that spanned multiple states and also involved the Federal government. It was really hard to know where things were at, what KPIs were and weren't being met, and who was doing what across the whole landscape. It led to a lot of siloed efforts in conservation work across states and even within zoos and aquariums themselves. When you've got people duplicating efforts, you're really draining those already finite resources. We are in a biodiversity-loss emergency and so we need to maximise what we're doing with the resources we have.
I thought about all the collaboration technology out there; everyone's working online now. Conservation isn't there yet. So with Xylo Systems I want to bring in that technology component to provide an overarching broad vision to help people achieve real conservation goals. I’m developing it to be a cloud-based platform, so it will have that decentralised component to it, delivering a way to collaborate, incorporating project management and impact tracking. And from there, we can bring in other technologies like artificial intelligence to help us make decisions further down the track when we've got people feeding lots of data into the system.
If you're working on bilbies, for example, how do you know who else is actually working on bilby recovery, how do you contact them and how do you get information on what actions are actually needed? So at the very basic level, people can go into the system and look at who is doing what.
For instance, if I'm at Taronga Zoo and I'm working on bilby captive breeding, I might need someone to come in and do genetic sampling on my population so I know which ones to pick for release and which ones to retain. If I did that without something like the platform I’m developing, I could be spending months trying to figure out who the best person is to work with. The idea is to rapidly connect people so that we aren't expending time and money. You can go on Facebook and look up someone you went to primary school with. It's the same concept for Xylo Systems and conservation.
We’re an early-stage start-up and just starting to work with clients to make sure that the system is going to meet their needs. I recently went through the Wild Idea incubator run by an organisation called Odonata, a not-for-profit supporting biodiversity impact solutions based in Victoria, and the NSW Saving Our Species program. Odonata have a number of sanctuaries in Victoria, and work with endangered species like quolls and bettongs and eastern-barred bandicoots. We're working closely with them on Xylo Systems to help them connect all of those sanctuaries and maximise their resources.
We're also working with a wildlife genetics lab at the University of Sydney: the Australasian Wildlife Genomics Lab headed up by Professor Katherine Belov, who's a very prominent koala and Tasmanian devil geneticist.
And then we're working with Taronga Zoo, which has been privy to this idea for about a year now. We've been working closely with their conservation department, but I've also recently been accepted into their Taronga Hatch Accelerator, which is really exciting because it means I get to work closer with them on Xylo Systems. Taronga Zoo is helping to breed regent honeyeaters for release into the wild, as part of a program with the New South Wales government’s Save Our Species initiative. Xylo Systems will help them to collaborate online because they use vastly different systems as it stands.
"I want to make sure that there is a strong Indigenous voice in how we manage threatened species in this country because First Nations people have done it for thousands and thousands of years successfully." Camille Goldstone-Henry
I'm of Kamilaroi descent and it was actually a secret that was kept in my family for a really long time, until my great grandmother died. It's something that's at the forefront of my mind as I develop Xylo Systems. I want to make sure that there is a strong Indigenous voice in how we manage threatened species in this country because First Nations people have done it for thousands and thousands of years successfully. It wasn't until Europeans arrived that it wasn't successful anymore. So I am eager to engage with our Indigenous communities to ensure that Xylo works for them.
We are in a biodiversity crisis, not just here but around the world. We know that we are running out of time really fast. We're going to lose a lot of species, if we don't act seriously in the next 10 to 15 years. And I think that technology is a way that's going to help us achieve that. When I was working as a conservation manager, I wasn’t too optimistic about the future for our biodiversity. I felt so stuck in the systems and bureaucracies that existed in Australia. But now that I am employing innovative solutions for really tough problems, I do feel much more optimistic. It gives me hope.