Using drones to build homes for koalas
12 January 2022 at 1:09 pm
“We’re generating what we describe as a koala fountain – a strong source population that can spread out along habitat corridors and bolster koala numbers throughout the region.”
Much like the rest of us, the koala has had a rough couple of years.
These Aussie icons made news all over the world as they struggled through the 2019-2020 bushfires yet, as heartbreaking as those images were, their decline in Queensland and NSW can also be attributed to disease, heatwaves, tree clearing and drought.
But now, a collaborative project between the World Wide Fund for Nature-Australia, the Australian Government, the Turner Family Foundation and Dendra System hopes to change the fate of the koala by using drones to scatter seeds to create new koala habitat rich in biodiversity.
The seed mix being distributed is made up of 40 different plant species, including native grasses and koala food as well as shade trees such as blue gums, ironbarks, melaleucas and acacias.
The blue gums are such a favourite food for koalas they’re known as ‘koala caviar’.
The project is part-funded by WWF-Australia, as part of its Regenerate Australia program, and the federal government as part of its $18 million koala package.
Phase one kicked off in November last year when a drone, operated by Dendra Systems, was sent up to scatter 45 kilograms of seed across five hectares on the Turner Family Foundation property at Hidden Vale in Grandchester, Queensland, 76km west of Brisbane.
Tanya Pritchard, WWF Australia’s landscape restoration project manager, said this form of drone seeding could be a turning point in koala recovery, and WWF-Australia’s goal is to double the number of koalas across eastern Australia by 2050.
“To do that we need to test innovative solutions such as drone seeding. If it’s a success it can be rolled out in other locations,” Pritchard said.
In total, koala food and shade trees will be planted across 11 hectares at Hidden Vale, generating approximately 15,000 trees.
At Thornton View Nature Refuge, further southwest in Queensland’s Lockyer Valley, another 30 hectares will be drone seeded, resulting in an estimated 40,000 trees.
Hidden Vale and Thornton View Nature Refuge are both owned by the Turner Family Foundation (TFF) and managed for the benefit of native wildlife including koalas.
Ben O’Hara, TFF general manager of land and environment, said that at Hidden Vale there are already promising signs that koalas are thriving in the area. And in just three years, 45 koalas have been individually identified on the property.
“We’re generating what we describe as a koala fountain – a strong source population that can spread out along habitat corridors and bolster koala numbers throughout the region,” O’Hara said.
Dr Susan Graham, CEO and co-founder of Dendra Systems – the company supplying the drones – said Dendra’s technology is optimised for biodiversity restoration and that the collaborative project could serve as a blueprint for bushfire restoration and degraded land recovery globally.
“Without a massively scalable approach to restoring ecosystems, we cannot reverse the damage and restore natural systems to health,” Graham said.
“Working side-by-side with leading environmental organisations and committed landowners, Dendra Systems has the ambitious plan to bring ecosystems back to pristine condition and pave the way for recovering critical habitats in Australia and scale restoration of ecosystems around the world.”