Singapore National Parks Board (NParks), Microsoft and Conservation International yesterday unveiled Fin Finder, touted to be Asia's first mobile application that uses artificial intelligence (AI) to visually identify illegally traded shark and ray species.
"Sharks and rays play an important role in maintaining marine ecosystems by keeping other fish populations in check. If stripped from our oceans, there would be dire consequences for ocean health, which would affect us, and our food security,” said Dhanushri Munasinghe, project coordinator at the Conservation International Singapore.
He added: “As one of the world's most significant transhipment hubs, Singapore is well positioned to combat illegal wildlife trade. Conservation International, supported by Microsoft and other partners, is excited to support Singapore and the Singapore National Parks Board's leadership in conservation through the creation of Fin Finder".
The mobile app was created by a Singapore-led team from Conservation International in consultation with NParks with support from the Microsoft AI for Earth program. It will be used by officers from the Singapore National Parks Board to combat illegal wildlife trade.
Fin Finder, a complex AI and cloud based mobile application that runs on Microsoft Azure, was created in just nine months to address a pressing need. The project was supported by a highly collaborative consortium of global experts in conservation and technology, with resources, data, and volunteer contributions from Microsoft, Conservation International, the NParks, Sineurope, Rumah Foundation, Coastal Natives and Wild Me.
Stopping illegal trade of sharks and rays
There are approximately 1,000 species of sharks and rays in the world, of which over 30 species are listed under the appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) for regulated trade.
Between 2012 and 2020, more than 160,000 kilograms of fins from CITES-listed sharks and rays have entered the Singapore waters. The current process requires officers to collect the fins from each shipment for DNA testing to determine its species. This takes an average of up to one week.
Ivonne Higuero, secretary general of CITES, said: "The first step in ensuring international trade complies with CITES regulations comes with the, sometimes difficult, process of identifying the species being traded. Fin Finder is a welcome and innovative addition in the identification of fins and will complement other tools such as iSharkFin. It will give customs and enforcement officers an easy-to-use tool that will contribute to an international trade in CITES-listed species that remains legal, traceable, and sustainable."
Fin Finder optimises the identification process by allowing officers to take photos of fins that will be matched against a database of over 15,000 shark and ray fin images via an AI-driven algorithm in the app. In a matter of seconds, the AI-powered app which runs on Microsoft Azure will quickly and accurately provide a visual identification of shark and ray species onsite and empower officers to quickly flag suspicious fin shipments for further DNA testing to stop the illegal trade of shark and ray fins.
When wildlife species are traded illegally, the consequences are far-reaching to many ecosystems, economies and communities around the world, according to Dr Adrian Loo, group director of wildlife management, NParks.
“By using advanced technology in the creation of Fin Finder, we can strengthen the enforcement against the illegal trade of sharks and ray species following CITES regulation, and boost Singapore's capabilities in conserving precious biodiversity,” Loo said.
Fin Finder as a single-platform directory
Beyond identification of illegally traded shark and ray fins, officers from the NParks will also use Fin Finder as a single-platform directory of relevant shark and ray species. The app also offers onsite access to reference materials that can be used for validation of CITES-approved permits or shipping documents. This feature is expected to reduce the time and effort spent to on shipment validation, enabling officers to help put a stop to illegal wildlife trade more quickly.
Richard Koh, chief technology officer, Microsoft Singapore, said: "AI has the potential to solve critical environmental challenges. By taking AI tools out of the lab and putting it into the hands of experts in the field, we can accelerate new solutions for a better world. That's why we are proud to support Fin Finder as it protects global shark and ray populations and preserves our ocean life. By conserving wildlife with help from technology, future generations can enjoy our natural world, as we empower every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more."
Fin Finder is a project in Microsoft AI for Earth, a global program that supports organisations applying responsible AI and cloud computing to address critical environmental issues. The program is part of Microsoft's AI for Good initiative, which aims to solve the world's most challenging problems, from climate change to agriculture, biodiversity and water. To date, AI for Earth has awarded 138 grants to people and businesses in more than 45 countries globally.