Picture this - you're sitting in front of the TV at home when an alert pops up on the screen. There's been an incursion at one of the predator traps you're monitoring. Instead of pulling on your boots and jacket you make a quick swipe and Coronation Street is paused as you prepare to launch a drone. Later, as you settle down with a glass of vino, an alert pops up telling you the incursion is now dealt with. Sound like science fiction? It's a lot closer than you might think.
In 2014 WWF launched New Zealand's first ever Conservation Innovation Awards, with the tagline of finding 'new ideas for nature'. The product category and $25,000 were awarded to TrapMinder, the brainchild of Great Barrier Island based inventor Gian Badraun.
TrapMinder is an automated trap monitoring system that could one day feature drones that can be operated remotely to control predators in isolated locations. This could save countless hours of leg work and bring the fight against our introduced predators right into the 21st century.
New Zealand conservation is currently at a turning point. It's acknowledged that despite our best efforts kiwi populations are declining -in fact the situation is so severe that nine out of 10 kiwi chicks born in the wild will not survive. This decline is not unique to kiwi. New Zealand species are among the most endangered in the world. With our Department of Conservation woefully underfunded, the scale of the challenge to protect vulnerable species and precious places is escalating. Voluntary groups are being asked to do more, yet funding and other support is not keeping pace. If we are to turn this around, we must work harder and smarter. To put it simply, we need to innovate.
New Zealand has a proud history of doing just this kind of thing. Perhaps the most well-known of our innovators was Timaru's Colin Murdoch, a prolific inventor who produced over 40 patents before he died in 2008.
Colin's most important invention was the disposable hypodermic syringe, now found around the world and used by millions of people. Colin had a passion for conservation, and while working with colleagues studying introduced wild goat and deer populations, had the idea that the animals would be much easier to handle if a dose of tranquillizer could be administered from a distance. The result was the tranquillizer dart, now a vital tool in wildlife conservation around the world.
Colin's ideas were not developed in isolation; he knew that for ideas to blossom, they must first be fostered through collaboration.
WWF's 2015 Conservation Innovation Awards will seek to harness this very spirit of working together in the search for our next Gian Badraun or Colin Murdoch. For the first time, inventors, conservationists, inquiring minds and ideas people will be able to propose, critique and refine ideas in real time through an online ideas platform. It's a 21st century way to getting the answers to our most pressing conservation issues, and might just be one small step towards a drone you can launch from the couch.
Find out more about the Conservation Innovation Awards, taking place today, Monday 7 September, at wwf.org.nz/innovation
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