Conservation Engineering: Saving Nature

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Shah Selbe is a conservationist, engineer, explorer, and entrepreneur developing technology-based solutions to solve some of the planet’s biggest conservation challenges.

A satellite propulsions engineer by training, Shah’s low-cost, often open-source solutions have been implemented in some of the harshest environments here on Earth, including oceans, deserts, glaciers and rainforests. His technologies have monitored species ranging from Sri-Lankan blue whales to Congo’s lowland gorillas.

In this episode of Create the Future, Shah explains his passion for ‘wild engineering’, exploring, and all the ways in which GPS trackers, drones, camera traps, sensors, satellites, and open-source solutions can help conserve threatened species, populations, and environments.

New episodes of ‘Create the Future: An Engineering Podcast’ every other Tuesday.

About the guest

Shah Selbe is an engineer, conservation technologists and founder of Conservify - a nonprofit that seeks to empower conservationists and communities by lowering the barriers to entry for effective conservation. His projects have integrated crowdsourcing, smartphone apps, drones, satellite data, and sensors to address such conservation issues as illegal poaching and the monitoring of protected areas.

Shah is a National Geographic Explorer, Nelson Institute Fellow at the University of Wisconsin Madison, a New England Aquarium Ocean Conservation Fellow, and a PopTech Social Innovation Fellow, and National Geographic Society Fellow . Before becoming a conservation technologist, Shah spent 10 years as a rocket scientist building and launching satellites with Boeing. He has been awarded the 2010 Boeing Exceptional Service Award, 2013 National Geographic Society Explorer Award, 2014 UCR Outstanding Alumnus Service Award, 2015 PopTech Social Innovation Award, was a finalist for the 206 Rolex Award.

Episode highlights

  • “We're losing giant swathes of rainforest every single day. There's just so much we do not know about these places in terms of biodiversity and we're losing it before we even have the chance to understand it. I think that's hugely tragic.”
  • “I think if I was a pessimist, conservation is the wrong industry to be in. I am eternally an optimist. I get very excited about new opportunities of collaboration and enabling the really important work that's happening on the ground by conservationists and environmentalists all over the world.”
  • “We've done work on glaciers, deserts, rainforests, and the ocean. What that technology looks like is very dependent on what you're trying to understand or the questions that you're trying to answer.”
  • “I’ve always been an environmentalist, I've always cared about these things. But previously, I saw that passion for the environment as something separate to my engineering job."
  • “I want to be able to bring on engineers onto the staff of my non-profit, develop these sophisticated tools, and then give out that knowledge for free.”
  • “In the past, these sensor systems cost around $50,000. We figured out ways to build the equivalent for $400 and by doing that, you really create an ability to monitor something on an ecosystem level that just wasn't possible even five years ago.”
  • “I have always wanted to be an engineer. That's just what I wanted to do. I was that little kid that would take apart my Dad's expensive stereo equipment and he would sit down next to me and help me put it all back together. And I think that put this little engineering bug in me at a very early age.”
  • “We're putting electronics in places where electronics [don’t] like to be, you know, in the middle of a swamp or on a glacier. And when you do that, you have to protect it […] if anything breaks on these, we have to engineer them in a way that they can be repaired locally.”

Photo by Todd Cravens on Unsplash

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