Vodacom South Africa and World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) South Africa’s collaboration has set the tone for a global partnership prioritising the conservation of oceans. The first-of-its-kind global partnership, which started with collaboration in South Africa in 2010, will see Vodacom SA and other Vodafone markets strengthen their commitments to the protection of biodiversity as well as their vision of using digital innovation to support the United Nations (UN) Sustainable Development Goals (SDG).
“Preserving our oceans is critically important. Not only is fishing a crucial source of food and employment in coastal towns, but the ocean also plays a significant role in combatting climate change and promoting tourism in South Africa,” says Takalani Netshitenzhe, Chief Officer for External Affairs at Vodacom SA. “Unfortunately, our oceans are at serious risk due to factors such as illegal and unregulated fishing, pollution, and climate change. Through our partnership with WWF, we are finding ways to use technology to combat these issues and create a more sustainable and healthier marine future for all.”
The collaboration will see the mobile technology company utilise its resources to support the development of technological solutions that address conservation problems unique to South Africa. The focus of these projects will be driving awareness of marine ecosystems and ocean literacy under the WWF-SASSI (South African Sustainable Seafood Initiative), helping to address sustainable patterns of consumption and production (SDG 12) to conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for the benefit of future generations (SDG 14).
While the fishing industry accounts for less than 1% of South Africa’s GDP, according to a report by the SADC-EU Economic Partnership Agreement, the ocean is an important strategic sector for food security, employment, and environmental impact in South Africa and across Africa. Fish is one of the most traded commodities in the world, with more than 50% of trade originating from developing countries. On top of this, the marine ecosystems, such as the kelp forests found off the coast of the Western Cape, sequester up to 20 times more carbon dioxide per acre than land forests making them critical to the fight against climate change.
The first of Vodacom SA’s partner projects is well underway, with Vodacom further investing in providing technological support. This project involves the development and growth of innovative technologies, digital decision-making tools, and platforms designed to drive change in the seafood value chain. These tools will be deployed through the Vodacom network, including tapping into the existing Vodacom Foundation schools network, starting with schools in coastal areas, with the aim of enhancing awareness among the youth, shifting behaviour among young influencers, consumers, and role models to create a generation well versed in ocean literacy and sustainable seafood. This project has already attracted global interest by displaying how technology can be used to drive environmental education and awareness.
“Education has always been a key consideration for Vodacom Foundation. Digitally enabled education holds immense power, especially in today’s digital economy. Smart technologies such as the WWF-SASSI app are enabling more environmentally conscious choices, and partnerships like these are helping to make a sustainable future a reality,” says Netshitenzhe.
The second and most recent of the projects involves utilising AI technology to protect the whale population while simultaneously reducing the negative impacts of sustainable farming practices like rope mussel farming which has the potential to entangle the marine mammals. The AI-powered Early Warning System that has been co-created with the help of Vodacom technology uses cameras and hydrophones to alert aquafarmers to detect the presence of whales in the Saldanha Bay Aquaculture Development Zone (SBADZ). The system also has the power to automatically activate the ADZ Incident and Emergency Response Protocol in case of entanglement, ensuring a timely response and mitigating the impact of any incident. project demonstrates how technology can be used to solve sustainability challenges and help preserve marine life and livelihoods. As people, the planet and prosperity are all intertwined.
The WWF-SASSI is a flagship ocean conservation programme supported by a range of wildlife, education, NGO, and other public interest groups, like Vodacom. In addition to these projects, WWF has several other programmes based on behaviour change solutions to encourage consumers to make more informed and sustainable decisions when choosing their seafood.
“For the WWF, success means creating meaningful ways in which people and communities can help conserve the world’s biological diversity,” says Pavs Pillay, WWF South Africa Behaviour Change Lead and WWF-SASSI Manager. “The oceans surrounding our country are extremely rich and hold the power to benefit sectors across the board. However, finding ways to leverage this potential sustainably is complex and requires a multi-pronged collaborative approach. Partnerships such as this are a shining example of how technology can be used to make a difference.”