Oz partners fly drones to regenerate depleted koala habitat


Led by the World Wildlife Foundation Australia, a team of concerned organizations are mounting a drone-powered effort to create a ‘koala corridor’ of trees and foliage to restore the marsupial habitat destroyed by recent fires and foliage. ‘reverse the decline of its population.

The project initially focuses on an area west of Brisbane, where drones operated by an air service company Dendra Systems flying missions spreading seeds over large tracts of fire road land with little ground cover. The goal is to regenerate the trees and other flora that koalas depend on for both food and shelter. When pushed back, these trunks and branches will not only provide safety for the animals, with elevated places to rest and raise their young, but will also fill the sparse landscape they currently have to traverse on foot – leaving them vulnerable to dog attacks. or to speeding vehicles.

The Turner Family Foundation and the Australian Government join with World Wildlife Foundation Australia (WWF) and Dendra, which is providing $ 12.9 million in funding in addition to contributions from other partners. The initial phase of the project will focus on 11,268 acres of private land west of Brisbane, and will expand under the WWF program Regenerate Australia program to restore some of the 47 million acres of growth burnt in the country’s devastating forest fires in 2019-2020. Among these is a koala habitat claimed by the flames, a loss that has accelerated the continued decline of their population.

“We know that koalas have been in sharp decline for 10 to 20 years, with reports in some areas exceeding 60% of their population,” said Tanya Pritchar, WWF Landscape Restoration Project Manager. “WWF has a really ambitious goal of doubling the number of koalas by 2050 and to do that we really need to step up our restoration efforts, which is why we are exploring these innovative techniques.”

These focus primarily on Dendra drones, which have flown on continual missions to spread a mix of seeds from 40 different plant and tree species, including the marsupial’s favorite blue gum eucalyptus that project managers. call it “koala caviar”. Drones not only cover a much wider range of land than manual methods allow, but are also equipped with broadcast devices and intelligent software, which also makes them more efficient.

“Each drone can carry around 750 kilograms per day, which I’m told is the weight of two polar bears,” says Susan Graham, co-founder and CEO of Dendra Systems. “And these drones can fly in swarms so that we can actually plant up to (1.6 tons) of seeds each day… Without a massively scalable approach to restoring ecosystems, we cannot reverse the damage and restore the health of the seeds. natural systems.

Dendra drones are already expected to perform missions to restore koala habitat on nearly 50,000 acres over the next four years. This will be essential to revive areas scorched by forest fires and help the species of the estimated 3 billion animals affected by the flames to rebound. And this process has already started, from the sky, in the WFF flight zone west of Brisbane.

“We generate what we describe as a koala fountain,” says Ben O’Hara, general manager of lands and environment at the Turner Family Foundation. “A large source population that can extend along habitat corridors and increase the number of koalas throughout the region.”

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