The Stability of Altered Forest Ecosystem (SAFE) Project, centered on the rainforests of Malaysian Borneo, is a collaboration between the South East Asia Rainforest Research Partnership (SEARRP), researchers at Imperial College London and Cambridge University, and various community partners. Among its various initiatives is SAFE Acoustics, which combines eco- acoustics , engineering, and machine learning tools to automate biodiversity monitoring in the tropical forests.

Sabah, East Malaysia

SAFE Acoustics

The SAFE Acoustics project uses a network of real-time acoustic monitoring units that record audio in different forest environments across the SAFE Project site, including primary forest, logged forest, and commercial oil-palm plantations.

In order to meet the challenges of recording audio over long periods in an environment with high temperature and humidity and daily thunderstorms, researchers developed an audio recording device based around the Raspberry Pi microcomputer and connected to solar panels and 3G. Sarab Sethi, one of the project researchers, has made the programming code and a how-to guide for assembling the device available open-access. Sethi's latest work explores the potential of biodegradable sensors to extend ecological monitoring further.

Find out more about SAFE Acoustics in our radio episode with Sarab Sethi.

SAFE Acoustics

Screenshot of the SAFE Acoustics platform. Image source: SAFE Acoustics [screenshot], including photo of Green Iora by Peter Boesman. Retrieved 28 June 2022, from http://acoustics.safeproject.net/06:00/4/32847

The SAFE Acoustics website allows visitors to listen to timestamped audio from the different forest sites, as well as recordings of individual (mostly bird) species that live in those areas. The website's promotional video highlights that audio data enables ecologists to monitor the health of forest environments, but also invites public engagement in using the recordings to learn to identify forest animals or to enjoy as 'background ambience'.

Considering this project in relation to other open-access platforms such as Rainforest Connection (RFCx) and Sounds of the Forest - Timber Festival prompts further discussion around how public engagement with bioacoustics might increase knowledge about more-than-human forest environments, but also how these platforms can sometimes elide critical issues around access, ownership, and Indigenous land rights and knowledges in these environments.

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