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WWF’s Conservation Innovation winners announced

WWF’s Conservation Innovation winners announced

Technology drives new ideas for nature

Wellington, 2 Nov – A mobile phone predator alert, GPS harnesses on cats and automated bird song recognition software—these hi-tech ideas for nature are among those being recognised at WWF-New Zealand’s inaugural Conservation Innovation Awards.

Winners of all three categories—Product, Research, Project—will be celebrated at a special awards ceremony hosted by the Minister of Conservation and distinguished Professor Dame Anne Salmond in Wellington on Mon 3 Nov, the start of Conservation Week. Each winner will receive $25,000 to help speed up the development or testing of their concept or product so it can ultimately be used in the field sooner.

“Conservationists, many of whom are community-based volunteers, face a well-documented daily battle to protect our treasured species and places. However as these awards demonstrate, there is no shortage of great ideas from Kiwi innovators around the country. Technological advances mean it is an exciting time to be on the frontline of conservation,” says Lee Barry, WWF-New Zealand’s Head of Projects.

Trap Minder, winner of the Product category, was developed by inventor Gian Badraun and his team at Microsystems Research as an early response system for monitoring predator traps and bait stations. A mini heat sensor detects warm blooded mammals and then sends an activation message by a radio link to the monitoring computer, which contains the GPS coordinates. The technology has the potential to send an instant alarm by email, text or a mobile app. It could save thousands of field hours and thousands of dollars as it can remotely alert a ranger to an incursion of a single pest at a predator free sanctuary, allowing a quick and targeted response.

CatTracker, winner of the Research category, combines GPS tracking and citizen science to turn cat owners into researchers, to help us better understand where cats go, what they get up to and how owners can manage pet cats to reduce their impact on wildlife. The project is led by Dr Heidy Kikillus for Victoria University and Wellington City Council, and the prize money will be used to expand the study to up to 500 households and cats across the capital, especially in the suburbs around Zealandia sanctuary.

The Research runner-up prize was awarded to Nirosha Priyadarshani, from Massey University, who has brought her background in speech recognition to finding new ways to digitally analyse bird recordings from the forest—saving many hours of human labour and helping solve the problem of how to estimate populations of native birds.

The Project category winner is Energise Otaki, a community collective that tackles the big issue of climate change for the wellbeing of people and biodiversity. Judge Devon McLean from Project Janszoon says: “Energise Otaki is a truly innovative project based on a community seeing their town as a system and how people can work together to reduce their own, and the town’s, environmental footprint. It is inspiring to see such a range of projects designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, supply clean and cheap energy to the townspeople, create jobs and educate kids.”

The other runners-up were an “elegant” Kauri dieback booting cleaning station, designed by AUT Industrial Design student Amanda Walker, and CatchIT, a central online database for analysing predator trapping and baiting info designed by University of Auckland statistician Rachel Fewster.

“The awards are part of WWF’s work to support community conservation groups around the country,” says Lee Barry. “By fostering a spirit of innovation, we hope to find new tools and smarter ways of doing things that will make this army of volunteers even more effective.”


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