Out of a record-breaking 47 entries, the three winning ideas of WWF-New Zealand’s 2017 Conservation Innovation Awards, announced tonight are: a high-tech thermal imaging solution for invasive species’ management; a device that detects real-time E. coli contamination in freshwater; and an innovation that combines thermal imaging and artificial intelligence for a predator free New Zealand.
The Kiwi winners will each be awarded a $25,000 grant to fast-track their ideas from concept to development, to maximize impact for conservation, making a real difference in the fight to protect precious ecosystems and native species.
“We’re thrilled to announce our amazing 2017 winners,” said Livia Esterhazy, WWF-New Zealand’s Chief Executive Officer. “These big, bold ideas offer new solutions to some of our greatest environmental challenges, such as freshwater quality and invasive pests. These are Aotearoa’s only Conservation Innovation Awards, and WWF-New Zealand is passionate to support smarter ways to improve, protect and restore NZ’s unique biodiversity.”
The winning ideas for 2017 are:
Thermal Animal Detection Systems (TADS)
Using a helicopter, the military grade, thermal imaging TADS system can quickly cover difficult terrain and large forested areas and has the ability to detect 90 – 100% of a target invasive pest population (goats, deer and pigs). The judging panel was very impressed by TADS as it has huge potential to reduce costs and improve the effectiveness of managing ungulates in conservation reserves and offshore islands and could be used to monitor endangered native species. “We’re so excited to win this Award,” said winner Jordan Munn from Upper Hutt’s Trap and Trigger. “This financial help is the boost we need to finish the product and get it into the air working perfectly.”
Real-time E. coli Sensor
Wairarapa-based Water Action Initiative New Zealand (WAI NZ) is developing a water-borne E. coli contamination sensor that can give community members and regional councils a tool to monitor freshwater in real-time, providing immediate detection of increased E.coli levels so that swifter action can be taken. The judging panel believes the sensor will revolutionise how freshwater can be tested with wider benefits for ecosystem health. Winner Grant Muir said: “We want to see all NZ rural and urban water catchments protected and enhanced for future generations, so winning this Award is such a boost with a pathway to refine, develop and manufacture the sensor”.
Grid-i Pest Detective
The Grid-i innovation, developed by Wellington electronic design enthusiast Gerald Dickinson, combines thermal imaging and artificial intelligence software to identify and monitor specific invasive mammal pests like rats and possums. Having the ability to move away from current indiscriminate pest removal methods and target specific species more accurately will be widely beneficial for conservation operations working towards a Predator Free New Zealand 2050. The judging panel was excited as this technology has great potential for eradication operations to locate and remove the last few pests from an area. “This Award opens up many new doors where we can finally come out of a backyard garage to progress Grid-i as an advanced and more affordable predator management tool,” Mr Dickinson said.
Ms Esterhazy said it was a very tough competition this year to select the three inspiring winners as there were 35 impressive finalists. “It was so close that we decided to award this year, for the first time, a special commendation to Squawk Squad,” she said.
“Using fun and interactive school campaigns, Squawk Squad is an exciting idea from passionate young Kiwis who got 40,000 kids and 800 schools involved in conservation in one week. Kiwi kids are the future of conservation in New Zealand, so as our 2017 special commendation, we’re keen to work with Squawk Squad to maximize their conservation potential.”
The 2017 Awards are supported by The Tindall Foundation, Department of Conservation, Callaghan Innovation, Predator Free 2050 and New Zealand’s Biological Heritage National Science Challenge.