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Press Release: Advancing Drone Technology for People and the Planet

Island Conservation is releasing a request for proposals for a heavy-lift drone with advanced capabilities to improve technology and methodology for the removal of invasive rats from the Ulong Island group in Palau’s Rock Island Southern Lagoon.

Media Contact: Emily Heber, Island Conservation, emily.heber@islandconservation.org, +1 (661) 332-1652
Resources: Drone Request For Proposals, Photos and B-roll, Interviews available

Released: July 1st, 2020 at 9am PST

Island Conservation announces their request for proposals (RFP) for a drones-for-conservation breakthrough. Island Conservation and our partners are seeking proposals for the development and operation of a heavy-lift drone and bait dispersal system with capabilities including lifting at least 25kg (55lbs), aerial mapping, and autonomous terrain-following for precision distribution. These advancements are necessary to remove damaging, invasive rats from the steep rocky terrain, complex coastline, and dense forests of the Ulong Islands, Palau, in early 2022. Additionally, similar advancements are already being pursued by come drone developers for their have potential applications for other markets such as agriculture and firefighting.

Innovation and increasing accessibility to technology are transforming our world and the ways in which we conserve and sustain it. As leaders in invasive species eradication, Island Conservation has spent the past 26 years developing, implementing, adapting, and refining the processes and methods necessary to protect endangered island wildlife and benefit island communities. Today, Island Conservation is partnering with Palau’s Koror State Government Department of Conservation and Law Enforcement (DCLE) to use drones to remove invasive rats from the Ulong Islands. Restoration of Ulong will protect the islands’ native terrestrial species and nearshore marine ecosystems, as well as the community’s cultural heritage, livelihoods, and food security.

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The Endangered Palauan Ground-dove is one of the many island species set to benefit from the removal of invasive rats. Credit: Ron Leidich

In 2019, Island Conservation, and our partners at the Galapagos National Park, implemented the world’s first drone-driven rat eradication on Seymour Norte Island in the Galapagos. Heavy-lift drones equipped with a purpose-built dispersal bucket can distribute bait across the island using an autonomous GPS flight system. A project of this scale typically relies on the use of helicopters and specially trained pilots, to distribute rodenticide bait, which are costly and logistically challenging, particularly for smaller, isolated islands. The Seymour Norte project demonstrated proof-of-concept, bringing island restorationists one step closer to making rat eradications a more cost-effective conservation tool.

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A heavy-lift drone capable of carrying 55lbs in a modified bait dispersal bucket was used to remove invasive rats from Seymour Norte Island, Galapagos in 2019. Credit: Andrew Wright

Restoration of this incredible island chain is only one step in the ongoing development of drone technology for invasive species eradication. With current technology, only 15% of islands where invasive species threaten island inhabitants and ecosystems can feasibly be restored. It is essential to continue to innovate and develop new approaches, including the use of drones for aerial rodent eradication projects. These tools and technologies have the potential to be used on thousands of island eradication projects around the world to protect biodiversity, improve food security, and increase the availability of natural resources. Following the successful removal of invasive rats on nearby Ngeanges Island, Ulong is the next step in scaling up the size and complexity of invasive species removal projects in Palau. At the same time, this drone technology will enable practitioners to increase the number, size, rate, and complexity of islands that can be treated with drones.

Island Conservation and our partners continue to seek collaborative partnerships and supporters to replicate the successes of Seymour Norte and scale a competitive market of off­-the-shelf drone products and services to prevent extinctions.

Additional Background

About Ulong

Ulong is a chain of 14 limestone islands and islets, located in Palau’s Rock Island Southern Lagoon, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The uninhabited islands play a vital role in the local economy as a popular tourism site where visitors explore the broadleaf forests, enjoy the thriving nearshore marine ecosystem, and observe native wildlife found nowhere else in the world. Restoration of the island group would expand secure habitat for endemic and globally significant species, including the Endangered Palau Megapode and Endangered Palau Ground-dove as well as Hawksbill and Green Sea Turtles.  

Why Islands?

Islands represent both a unique conservation need and opportunity. Islands total only a small fraction of our planet’s land area and host a disproportionately higher rate of extinction and endangerment per unit area than continents. For this reason, investing limited conservation funds on islands provides a high return on investment.

  • There are ~465,000 islands in the world, yet they comprise just 5.3% of the Earth’s terrestrial area.
  • Islands have been epicenters for extinctions: Islands have hosted 75% of known bird, mammal, amphibian and reptile extinctions since 1500.
  • Islands provide critical refuges for highly-threatened species, currently supporting 36% of bird, mammal, amphibian and reptile species that are classified as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List.

Invasive alien species are a major driver of species extinctions on islands, particularly invasive mammals.

  • Many islands’ species are threatened as a direct consequence of invasive alien species, particularly invasive mammals. Invasive cats and rats are the most damaging invasive species known on islands.
  • Invasive species devour eggs, young and even adults of native animals and plants, spread invasive seeds, and destroy vegetation.

Islands offer hope that we can prevent extinctions and protect biodiversity.

  • Eradication of invasive mammals from islands is a proven conservation tool.
  • More than 1,200 invasive mammal eradications have been attempted on islands worldwide, with an average success rate of 85%.
  • Larger more remote and technically challenging islands are being successfully cleared of invasive species populations each year.
  • Many of these investments have resulted in remarkable stories of restoration success, including the recovery of globally threatened species.
  • Protecting island wildlife and improving the resiliency and sustainability of natural and cultural resources for island communities will require innovative new tools to increase the scale, scope, and pace of restoration to match the magnitude of this conservation challenge.

About the partners

Island Conservation is the only global, not-for-profit conservation organization whose mission is to prevent extinctions by removing invasive species from islands. We work where the concentration of both biodiversity and species extinction is greatest – islands. Removing a primary threat – introduced invasive vertebrates – is one of the most critical interventions for saving threatened plants and animals and restoring island ecosystems. Once invasive species are removed, native island species and ecosystems can recover, often with little additional intervention. To date, we have successfully restored 63 islands worldwide, benefiting 1173 populations of 468 species and subspecies. IC is headquartered in Santa Cruz, CA with field offices in British Columbia, Chile, Ecuador, Hawai’i, New Zealand, Palau, and Puerto Rico.

Featured photo: Ulong Beach, Rock Island Southern Lagoon, Palau. Credit: Ron Leidich

About Island Conservation

Island Conservation prevents extinctions by removing invasive species from islands. To date, we have successfully restored 64 islands worldwide, benefiting 1195 populations of 487 species and subspecies. Working together with local communities, government management agencies, and conservation organizations, we select islands that have the greatest potential for preventing the extinction of globally threatened species.

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