Two-day hackathon leads to promising applications for biodiversity conservation

Five teams with entrepreneurs, scientists and information specialists. Two full days (and part of the night). Building applications together that can stimulate biodiversity in the Netherlands. That is the poster of the hackathon Spatial Data for Biodiversity, organised in Ede on 23 and 24 October.

They had never met before and were suddenly sitting together at a table, with only a day and a half to go until the deadline. One earth observation specialist, a data engineer, two GIS specialists cum archaeologist and ecologist, a deep learning PhD student and a satellite engineer. For the occasion, they called themselves The Habitat Hackers.
The winning team 'The Habitat Hackers'

Like four other teams, the Habitat Hackers worked on a new application that could help promote biodiversity in the Netherlands. 'Especially because of all these different backgrounds, we were able to learn an awful lot from each other,' says team member Logambal Madhuanand from Utrecht University. 'We worked until three in the morning to explore how to best apply everyone's knowledge and experience. Once we knew that, elaboration took off at lightning speed.'

Optimal shipping route
The team developed a tool that visualises open-source data on the Wadden Sea and thus helps policymakers make the right choices. For example, the optimal sailing route for the ferry service to Ameland, taking into account both the costs and the consequences for land and sea life. Or which areas in the Wadden Sea are suitable for shrimp fishery and which are not, because nature needs time to recover.

With their solution, the Habitat Hackers won the first prize in the hackathon: 1,500 euros and 24 hours of coaching, sponsored by Starthub, to develop their ideas further. The other teams also impressed, including an idea to show in virtual reality how biodiversity changes depending on which policy choices you make in an area.

'All the ideas pitched during the hackathon have potential,' says organiser Jenny Lazebnik of Wageningen University & Research. 'Two days is obviously far too short to develop a full application, but the results show how much is possible if you look at the same challenge from very different disciplines.'

High quality satellite data
NSO supported the hackathon with expertise and relevant satellite data from three areas where we know biodiversity is under pressure: the North Sea, the Veluwe and the Wadden Sea. 'Especially the objective nature and scale of the observations make satellite data a valuable source of information,' says Lazebnik. 'They can be used well together with in situ data, artificial intelligence and computer models, for example.'

The hackathon poster
A total of nearly 30 participants took part in the hackathon. But the enthusiasm for using new data applications to contribute to societal challenges such as biodiversity is much larger, says Coco Antonissen of NSO. "If there are students, researchers or companies who also want to get started, I advise them to keep an eye on new rounds of the NSO SBIR scheme. With these, we are focusing on applications for the benefit of biodiversity in the Netherlands, among other things, in the coming period.'

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The Hackathon Spatial Data for Biodiversity was organised by the WUR with help from Eurisy and with funding from the Ministry of LNV and support from Starthub and the NSO.