Message From the President
This past fall, on a foggy October evening in San Francisco, almost two-dozen leaders in conservation, technology, and philanthropy brainstormed over dinner at the home of former Google Vice President Matthew Stepka. The topic: applying emerging remote sensing and Big Data technologies to conservation. The convener: SkyTruth. Thanks to help from SkyTruth Board Chair David Shearer and former Board Chair David Festa, SkyTruth led a discussion with major thinkers at the intersection of technology and conservation. Sustained by good wine and the best vegetarian meal I’ve ever eaten, we converged on two major challenges.
The first is the barrage of data emerging from the growing number of satellites in space – numbers that increase every month. Everyone in the room recognized that we are close to revealing not only what environmental actions occurred a month ago or a year ago, but what actions are occurring right now. How do we sort through the mountains of data available and make it meaningful for conservation?
The second challenge is how do we use that data to generate action on the ground or in the water? In short, how do we translate giving the public more – and more timely – information into real change?
At SkyTruth we’ve been working on the answers. We believe those answers include giving users control over the information they receive, and creating tools that allow them to interpret it quickly and easily. It’s a thrilling time for us to be innovating at the intersection of technology and the environment. Read on to learn more about our accomplishments in 2018, and please keep in touch as we build on this work in the year ahead.
In 2018 we began a three-year process of revamping our SkyTruth Alerts system to allow users to access more information about pollution spills, drilling activity, forest loss, and more. At the same time, we’ve made it easier for them to focus on their key areas of interest, identifying specific political boundaries or literally drawing lines on a map. We’ll continue to add capabilities to the Alerts system over the next two years, while enhancing users’ ability to focus only on the information useful to them, and making it easier to act on that information.
We also began laying the foundation for our computer vision work, harnessing the power of artificial intelligence (AI) to identify patterns on the landscape that reveal harmful activities. Those patterns can run the gamut, including new roads that open up remote forests to logging, well pads that signal oil and gas development, vessels fishing in marine protected areas, retention ponds that may hold toxic wastewater, land clearing that often precedes mining, or other features that typically remain hidden in remote locations. With cutting edge algorithms processing scads of data collected from space, we can teach computers to recognize specific features on the ground, revealing these activities as they’re happening.
Guided by our Strategic Plan, we embarked on this process in 2018 and will move forward in 2019 with an initial focus on oil and gas drilling on public lands. Our AI-powered environmental monitoring platform will allow subscribers such as researchers, advocates, regulators, journalists and others to receive updates about places they care about in near real-time, arming them with information to take action.
We’re calling this new initiative Conservation Vision, and with it, we expect to turbo-charge environmental transparency around the world.
In addition to revamping SkyTruth Alerts and leading the way on Conservation Vision, SkyTruth increased the public’s ability to know and understand how our lands and waters are being managed. Among other things, we:
- Triggered action by the US Coast Guard on the 14-year old Taylor Energy oil spill;
- Continued to partner with Global Fishing Watch on identifying transshipment and other illegal activities at sea, and encouraging governments around the world to make their fishing data visible to the public;
- Created an annually updated mountaintop removal mining footprint dataset for Appalachia;
- Reached over 5,000 followers on Twitter and 7,000 followers on our Facebook page, and attended or participated in 29 conferences and panels.
And as always, we’ve made all of our work open and free to the public on our website, via social media accounts, and as supporting materials for our peer-reviewed publications.
In 2018 we also spoke with journalists on issues such as offshore drilling, mining, overfishing, illegal fishing, and natural disasters –including Hurricane Florence, which battered the Carolinas with wind and flood damage and left the region with overflowing hog waste lagoons and coal ash ponds. In 2018 we had over 200 media mentions throughout the world. Two highlights in particular stand out: SkyTruth’s lead fisheries analyst, Bjorn Bergman, appeared in the CNBC documentary Oceans of Crime to explain the challenges of combating illegal, unregulated, and unreported (IUU) fishing at sea. And our dogged work documenting and publicizing the chronic, 14-year-long Taylor Energy oil spill prompted high-profile coverage by the Washington Post that was picked up internationally, and spurred the Coast Guard to finally take aggressive action to end the leak.
I’m proud to say that, because of our unique accomplishments, SkyTruth was named one of the “10 Need-To-Know Innovative Nonprofits” by 1% For The Planet in August.
In the following sections you can read more about what we accomplished in 2018, and why our role as a leading innovator applying satellite technology to environmental conservation continues to grow.
SkyTruth in the News
- Can Satellite Surveillance Help End Slavery in the Seafood Industry?Modern Farmer, Jan 12, 2018
- New Maps Show the Utterly Massive Imprint of Fishing on the World’s OceansWashington Post, Feb 22, 2018
- New Maps Reveal Global Fishing‘s ’Vast Scope of Exploitation of the Ocean’NPR, Feb 22, 2018
- The Amazing Ways Google Uses Artificial Intelligence and Satellite Data to Prevent Illegal FishingForbes, Apr 9, 2018
- Citizen Science: Do Try This at HomePC Magazine, Apr 13, 2018
- Google is Indonesia’s New Weapon in War on Illegal FishingBloomberg, Apr 19, 2018
- Fracking’s Environmental Impacts: WaterGreenpeace, Jun 24, 2018
- Oil and Gas Industry is Coming for Colorado’s Sand DunesCNN.com, Jun 25, 2018
- Harnessing Natural Gas to Harvest Water from the Air Might Solve Two Big Problems at OncePhys.org, Jul 11, 2018
- Mountaintop Mining Is Destroying More Land for Less Coal, Study FindsInside Climate News, Jul 26, 2018
- Researchers Reveal Scope of Damage to Appalachia from Coal MiningThink Progress, Jul 26, 2018
- New Mapping Tool Visualizes 30 Years of Mountaintop RemovalYale Environment 360, Jul 27, 2018
- New Map Chronicles Three Decades of Surface Mining in Central AppalachiaSmithsonian.com, Aug 1, 2018
- Gulf Oil Leak Caused by Hurricane Ivan Spills Much More than Thought, Federal Lawyers SayAssociated Press, Sep 17, 2018
- A 14-Year-Long Oil Spill in the Gulf of Mexico Verges on Becoming one of the Worst in U.S. HistoryWashington Post, Oct 21, 2018
- An Oil Spill You’ve Never Heard of Could Become one of the Biggest Environmental Disasters in the USCNN, Oct 21, 2018
SkyTruth on TV
SkyTruth uses the view from space to inspire people to protect the environment. We are a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization headquartered in Shepherdstown, West Virginia, with offices across the United States and in Indonesia. We believe more transparency leads to better management and better outcomes. By sharing our findings – stunning imagery and robust science-based data – with the public for free, we move policy makers, governments and corporations towards more responsible behavior and more accountability for the environment.