WIRED Features Island Conservation and the First Drone-powered Invasive Rat Removal

WIRED speaks with Island Conservation’s Chad Hanson about the world’s first drone-powered invasive vertebrate removal.

Read the WIRED article here.

The Directorate of the Galápagos National Park (Dirección del Parque Nacional Galápagos – DPNG) and Island Conservation have completed a world first by using drones to rid two Galápagos Islands of invasive rats. Island Conservation project director Chad Hanson spoke with WIRED about the project and what it means for island wildlife around the world.

To date, there have been over 400 successful invasive rodent removal projects on islands all around the world. Historically, this has required shipping helicopters and specially trained pilots to remote islands which is not always the most effective approach for small or difficult-to-maneuver islands.

Drones were launched from an off-shore boat that monitored the flight path. Credit: Island Conservation

Small islands are no less valuable to the conservation of seabirds and endemic island species than large islands, but oftentimes helicopeters are not a practical approach for small islands. Now, technology is catching up and drones, in particular, have increasingly seemed like the next frontier for projects on small and mid-sized islands. Island Conservation project director, Chad Hanson, explained:

You can take a drone and pack it up and put it on a plane and you can go anywhere in the world with it. That’s effectively opening up a door to a whole new suite of islands that haven’t been feasible in the past.”

Two drones, each weighing 55-pounds, distributed conservation bait over Seymour Norte and Mosquera Islands. The drones were launched from a boat offshore where the operators tracked and controlled the flight-path according to predetermined transects over the island.

Field staff member on Seymour Norte Island stationed to do the final drone check. Credit: Island Conservation

Seymour Norte Island is less than one square mile which made it a perfect location to implement this new technology. The small island requires a level of precision that was not previously available.

Drones are not the answer to all invasive species removal projects, but this new technology can and will help save island species around the world. Projects that previously seemed impossible such as small islands with rugged terrain could now benefit from the removal of invasive species.

This project was made possible due to support from Lindblad Expeditions-National Geographic Fund, Silversea Cruises, Galapagos Biodiversity & Education for Sustainability fund Ecoventura – Charles Darwin Foundation, Metropolitan Touring, Fondo Especies Invasoras Galapagos, Rapid Response Facility, Bell Labs, International Galápagos Tour Operators Association, individual donors that gave their support through the SOS North Seymour campaign, and other private and public donors.

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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