The effects of man-made creations, human activity, and natural phenomena have an increasingly significant influence over one another. Not only does unrestricted development and minimal environmental governance incite rapidly changing environments, but it significantly affects how we live. Our need and responsibility to monitor these changes and manage their impacts through environmental policy and robust governance is equally increasingly prominent.
Despite this, a variety of organisations, such as environmental agencies, governments and asset managers, across industries often struggle to address these new ambitions and responsibilities. With the increasing demand to prove sustainable practices and Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) compliance, it’s becoming harder for organisations to provide evidence on how habitats are impacted by their actions.
In this article, we discuss why mapping habitats and assessing biodiversity is so important, why environmental compliance challenges exist, and how biodiversity mapping using space data can help solve these issues.
What is biodiversity and why is it so important?
Biodiversity in its simplest terms is a measure of variation. Most commonly this is thought of in terms of species diversity, but we can extend this definition to include a combination of biological and environmental factors (i.e. life and landscape).
Assessing biodiversity involves identifying, classifying and mapping the variations of habitats across the landscape and then applying metrics that enhance or reduce the likely number of species to exist in a particular habitat. Observing changes over time can provide organisations in pursuit of SDG’s with insight into whether remedial action is required to offset damages or enhancements can be made through increasing connectivity or habitat condition. This process can also help Identify critical ecosystems (such as mangroves or coral reefs) in both marine and terrestrial environments that require special protection and action plans for their presentation and in some cases their reintroduction.
Understanding the existing species, biodiversity, and sensitivity of ecosystems within a certain region is necessary for reducing environmental impacts during infrastructure development. Biodiversity indicates the health of environmental assets through the Interactions between plants, animals, and the environment within an ecosystem. Monitoring biodiversity not only benefits the health and function of an ecosystem, but promotes ecosystem resilience to climate change, and could overall increase its productivity as a carbon sink. From the perspective of a business, a focus on enhancing biodiversity can contribute to efforts to reduce your carbon footprint.
Overall, this information helps decision-makers understand their landscape, its key metrics, and to consistently analyse changes. With this information, organisations can track the impact they’re having – both positive and negative – and make more sustainable decisions that serve their environmental goals.
The challenge of environmental compliance
One of the biggest challenges to increasing environmental standards and sustainability practices is compliance. Meeting environmental and sustainability requirements challenges both our abilities to evolve our existing processes and to quantify our environmental impact in any given area.
For example, if an organisation is required to build their coastal tourist attraction without affecting the local marine or terrestrial ecosystems, how do they go about determining the risks to these habitats and how to avoid them?
Often, the biggest barrier standing in their way is technology and data paucity.
Organisations require a huge amount of data about their surrounding environment and their actions, as well as how these two areas interact, in order to answer their sustainability needs. But on the whole, how to gain access to the best version of these data sets is a relatively new consideration. Most organisations don’t have the in-house capability or budgets to get high-quality data on a large scale and so it can seem likely a daunting, unachievable task.
How assessing biodiversity using space technology helps organisations with compliance
Biodiversity metrics help organisations remove ambiguity about their natural assets and their surrounding environment. It gives organisations the data they need to not only understand and monitor their impact, but to clearly evidence their actions in accordance with policy compliance.
One of the quickest and most cost-effective ways to understand your environment and what habitats are within it is by analysing satellite imagery from space. Using data from space to map the presence and distribution of habitats allows organisations to better understand their surroundings, on a local countrywide or global scale, without the need to put people on the ground.
This is especially useful if organisations are functioning in inhospitable regions, areas of political uncertainty, or have globally distributed locations of interest. The resource required to survey and analyse these areas without satellite assets would be excessively time-consuming, costly, and logistically complex. But with them, organisations can manage their policy adherence without leaving the office. It also opens the door to concession areas that were previously unmappable because of access restrictions – whether because of political reasons or health and safety.
These innovative techniques have carved out clear pathways for organisations to stay on track with their environmental goals. Using this approach, maintaining sustainable activity – from environmental protection during development to reducing pollutant activity – is made easier.
On both an organisational and a global level, it makes achieving goals more realistic and supports the hope for a more sustainable behavioural shift. The use of space data therefore ultimately empowers organisations to implement practices that benefit the planet and people.
The future of biodiversity mapping
Sustainability is only going to rise in priority and gain more investment from all sectors. Industries, therefore, need to be able to make decisions that take biodiversity and their surrounding habitats into account. This is the only way they’ll be able to make sustainable, future-proofed business plans that succeed long-term.
As new satellites are frequently launched into space with new sensor technology, data is becoming more detailed, more accurate, and quicker to access. This data will empower more targeted intervention for decision-makers in all industries. Not only for environmental and government agencies, but also for commercial businesses and ESG asset managers.
As data becomes a more central aspect to how businesses and societies function, being tied into our way of life through Smart Cities and IoT, environmental tech is likely to follow. There is the possibility that consistent monitoring and management of environmental considerations will become completely embedded with man-made infrastructure.
Implementing ongoing assessments of biodiversity will undoubtedly be increasingly integral to human development going forwards.