Drones Saving Island Ecosystems: An Interview with Island Conservation



drones Island Conservation
Drones
help
provide
environmentally
friendly
solution
to
save
island
ecosystems


By
DRONELIFE
Features
Editor
Jim
Magill


All
images
courtesy
Island
Conservation,
used
with
permission.

Many
island
communities
throughout
the
world
face
enormous
challenges,
from
rising
sea
levels
to
the
introduction
of
non-native
species
that
can
destroy
fragile
ecosystems.

An
international
non-governmental
organization
is
using
drone
technology
to
help
eradicate
invasive
species,
reinvigorate
reef
systems,
reduce
coastal
erosion
and
reintroduce
native
species
whose
populations
have
dwindled.

“Island
Conservation
is
the
world’s
only
conservation
nonprofit
that’s
focused
exclusively
on
restoring
and
rewilding
islands
all
around
the
world,”
said
Bren
Ram
Island
Conservation’s
projects
communications
manager.
“This
is
actually
our
30th
year
of
existence
and
over
that
time
we’ve
been
able
to
collect
a
massive
amount
of
data
about
a
nature-based
solution
that
can
really
help
island
ecosystems
thrive,
which
is
removing
invasive
species
from
islands.”

drones island conservation

drones island conservation

The
Santa
Cruz,
California-based
group
recently
began
using
drones
to
spread
bait
to
help
eliminate
invasive
species
of
animals,
chiefly
rats,
allowing
native
flora
and
fauna
to
flourish.
The
bait
contains
small
amounts
of
poison,
fatal
to
the
vermin,
but
not
harmful
for
the
rest
of
the
environment.

Ram
said
the
elimination
of
invasive
species
is
an
environmentally
safe
solution
to
enriching
the
ecosystems
of
islands
and
combatting
the
destructive
effects
of
climate
change.

“When
invasive
species
are
removed,
native
species
get
to
come
back

mainly,
seabirds
and
other
animals
that
travel
around
the
world
and
bring
nutrients
from
the
ocean
back
onto
the
land.
When
seabirds
are
able
to
nest
safely
on
islands,
they
enrich
the
island
with
their
guano,
which
helps
native
plants
to
flourish,”
she
said.

The
droppings
from
the
returning
seabirds
wash
off
into
the
near-shore
ecosystem,
providing
valuable
nutrients
to
nearby
coral
reefs.
“It
makes
reefs
healthier
and
it
improves
food
security
for
people
that
live
nearby,
because
then
there’s
more
fish,
and
more
ground
cover
for
various
other
animals,
and
healthier
plants
that
they
can
harvest,”
Ram
said.

Prior
to
the
introduction
of
drone
spreaders,
the
distribution
of
the
bait
could
only
be
accomplished
by
hand
spreading,
or
by
the
more
costly
option
of
using
a
helicopter.
Contracting
third-party
helicopter
operators
was
not
only
prohibitively
expensive,
but
also
presented
a
myriad
of
logistical
challenges,
especially
for
eradication
efforts
on
smaller
and
more
remote
islands.

“So,
what
has
the
use
of
drones
allowed
us
to
do?
It’s
not
just
allowed
us
to
get
better
coverage
of
islands,
but
also
keeps
that
expertise
in
the
communities
that
need
it,”
Ram
said.
Working
in
conjunction
with
the
local
populations
of
the
islands
where
it
operates,
Island
Conservation
also
provides
the
communities
with
drones
and
training
in
their
use.

“We’ve
been
able
to
train
a
bunch
of
community
members
on
various
islands
around
the
world
to
use
drones
for
their
own
conservation
ends.
So,
they
get
to
decide
what’s
important
for
them
to
track,
to
pay
attention
to,”
Ram
said.

One
use
that
the
indigenous
island
people
have
found
for
the
drones
is
in
keeping
track
of
native
species
that
have
been
reintroduced
to
their
island
homes.
“In
the
Galapagos
we’re
having
a
project
right
now
where
once
the
invasive
mammals
are
removed,
they’re
going
to
bring
back
bunches
of
tortoises,
iguanas
and
various
other
animals.
Being
able
to
track
them
with
drones
will
help
us
measure
the
impact
of
our
work
with
much
more
granularity
and
a
higher
degree
of
accuracy.”

David
Will,
Island
Conservation’s
head
of
innovation,
said
the
idea
for
the
aerial
distribution
of
bait
pellets
to
control
invasive
species
in
island
locales
began
in
the
1990s
when
New
Zealand
introduced
a
helicopter
distribution
program.

“That
transformed
the
field
of
island
restoration,
allowing
a
lot
more
of
these
invasive
species
eradications
to
occur,”
he
said.
However,
recognizing
the
limits
of
helicopter-based
distribution,
Island
Conservation
began
experimenting
with
the
use
of
drones
to
perform
the
work.

The
conservation
team
soon
learned
that
drones
that
were
commercially
available
in
those
early
days
of
experimentation,
such
as
the
DJI
Phantom
4,
didn’t
have
the
payload
capacity
or
flight
duration
needed
to
meet
the
challenge.
Then
in
2019,
the
return
of
rodents
to
Seymour
Norte,
a
tiny
but
ecologically
important
island
in
the
Galapagos
chain,
triggered
the
declaration
a
conservation
emergency.

“We
worked
with
a
couple
of
individuals,
who
started
their
own
company
that
built
a
custom
drone
with
a
10-kilogram
(22-pound)
payload
capacity
to
be
able
to
deliver
this
conservation
bait,”
Will
said.
That
first
conservation
project
proved
the
feasibility
of
using
UAVs
in
this
manner.

“We
were
able
to
deliver
bait
across
the
island,
but
then
the
spreaders
broke
and
we
had
to
do
the
rest
of
that
application
by
hand
broadcast.
And
then,
the
second
application
we
were
able
to
do
again
by
drones,”
he
said.
“Since
then,
we’ve
now
done
12
different
islands
on
eight
different
island
groups
around
the
world.”

drones island conservation

drones island conservationIsland
Conservation
partners
with
Envico
Technologies,
a
New
Zealand-based
company
specializing
in
the
development
of
aerial
and
ground-based
conservation
tools,
which
produces
the
custom-built
all-electric
drones
used
in
the
distribution
of
conservation
bait.
The
company
currently
is
engineering
an
aerial
vehicle
with
more
payload
capacity
and
longer
flight
capability,
designed
to
accommodate
larger
conservation
projects.

“They’re
developing
a
hybrid
gas/electric
drone
with
a
50-kilogram
(110-pound)
payload
capacity.
We’ve
started
doing
some
early
stage
testing
of
that
platform
as
another
potential
option
because
we
realized
that
these
all-electric
drones
have
limited
battery
life,”
Will
said.
The
next
generation
of
aerial
vehicle
will
allow
the
conservation
workers
to
travel
to
very
remote
islands
and
conduct
eight
hours
of
continuous
operations,
without
having
to
worry
about
recharging
battery
packs.

Will
said
the
non-profit
organization
also
is
looking
into
other
aerial
technological
solutions
for
even
more
ambitious
projects.
These
include
products
made
by
Parallel
Flight
Technologies,
a
California-based
company,
which
specializes
in
hybrid
gas/electric
aerial
platforms.
Another
potential
technology
provider
is
Syos
Aerospace,
a
New
Zealand-based
company,
which
is
developing

in
conjunction
with
the
New
Zealand
Department
of
Conservation

an
uncrewed
helicopter,
with
a
200-kilogram
(440-pound)
payload
capacity.

drones Island Conservation

drones Island Conservation

Island
Conservation
is
also
working
with
DJI
and
other
companies
that
produce
agricultural
spraying
drones
to
see
if
they
can
configure
their
products
to
distribute
the
large
conservation
bait
pellet
uses
in
invasive
species
eradication.
“The
biggest
limiting
factor
for
those
has
just
been
the
design
of
the
spreaders,
which
have
been
optimized
for
very
small
granular
pellets
or
for
fertilizer,
whereas
the
product
we’re
developing
is
a
large
cereal-grain
pellet.”

Ram
said
the
recent
improvements
in
drone
technology
are
helping
to
create
more
affordable
user-friendly
drone
products,
thus
lowering
the
barriers
of
entry
for
the
people
of
small
island
communities
with
modest
budgets,
who
want
to
employ
the
aerial
vehicles
in
their
home-grown
conservation
projects.

“Drone
manufacturers
have
really
been
leaning
into
the
accessibility
of
drones
and
making
them
really
easy
to
use,
which
really
democratizes
the
technology,”
she
said.
“They
can
get
drones
into
the
hands
of
people
who
want
to
use
them
with
relative
ease.”

Read
more:


Jim
Magill
is
a
Houston-based
writer
with
almost
a
quarter-century
of
experience
covering
technical
and
economic
developments
in
the
oil
and
gas
industry.


After
retiring
in
December
2019
as
a
senior
editor
with
S&P
Global
Platts,
Jim
began
writing
about
emerging
technologies,
such
as
artificial
intelligence,
robots
and
drones,
and
the
ways
in
which
they’re
contributing
to
our
society.
In
addition
to
DroneLife,
Jim
is
a
contributor
to
Forbes.com
and
his
work
has
appeared
in
the
Houston
Chronicle,
U.S.
News
&
World
Report,
and
Unmanned
Systems,
a
publication
of
the
Association
for
Unmanned
Vehicle
Systems
International.