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Drones, floating water monitors and disease tracking apps: Three innovations that could change conservation

The Kiwi innovators behind these ideas will each be awarded a $25,000 grant to recognise their contribution to innovation in conservation, through the World Wildlife Fund’s 2016 Conservation Innovation Awards.

WWF’s Conservation Innovation Awards, supported by The Tindall Foundation, celebrate innovation and collaboration, with the aim to locate and support the very best innovative ideas for conservation. WWF’s head of New Zealand Projects, Michele Frank, said the entries submitted to this year’s awards were inspirational. “These awards are an exciting collaboration between people who are all passionate about improving the natural environment,” she said. “Using a crowdsourcing website, entrants posted their ideas publicly, joined discussions with site visitors and then adapted their ideas in response to comments.”

This year there were 41 entries from across the country, including Kaipara Harbour, Thames, Paekakairki, Christchurch, Golden Bay, Motueka, Katikati, Stewart Island, Marlborough Sounds, Te Puke, Martinborough, Motueka, Nelson, and Rotorua.

Frank said the entries highlighted the need for Kiwis to think about conservation creatively to deal with challenges such as the Predator-Free initiative. “By harnessing creativity like this we can bring better tools to the community volunteer army and better protect our wildlife, sooner.”

An independent judging panel took a look at the entries. Judges included Silicon Valley entrepreneur Matthew Monahan (Kiwi Connect); Shane Inder, head of industrial design & innovation at Auckland University of Technology; environmental research champion Justine Daw (General-Manager of Landcare Research); and Devon McLean, conservation visionary and director of Project Janszoon.

Idealog takes a look at the winning entries.

Philip Solaris.


DroneCounts wants to take wildlife tracking to the next level, with a model that can pick up several signals and map wildlife in an area – with drones. Behind the innovation are Auckland-based John Sumich of (Ark in the Park and Habitat Te Henga fame) and Philip Solaris (X-craft).

Solaris says he’s stoked about the recognition. “This award will open opportunities to enable our innovation to assist the urgent fight to stem the tragic loss of species, both locally and globally,” he says. “A prototype has already been deployed that is capable of detecting multiple transmitter signals, on differing frequencies, which to our knowledge is a world first. The aim now is to increase the autonomy of the aircraft, enabling it to track, locate and record these signals in the most efficient way without the need of human intervention.”

River Watch Water Testing Device

Water quality is important to many of us in Aotearoa. What the River Watch Water Testing Device allows people to monitor water quality in local rivers and other waterways, providing real-time date. Developed by Water Action Initiative (WAI) New Zealand in collaboration with students from Victoria University of Wellington’s School of Engineering and Computer Science, the device floats on the water, and can measure temperature, conductivity, turbidity and pH levels. It logs data over a 48-hour period, is simple to operate, portable and inexpensive. Behind the initiative is South Wairarapa farmer Grant Muir and his son James Muir. Says Grant Muir: “This award will allow for the nationwide roll out of the prototype and will have a major impact on the restoration of our fresh water for generations to come.”

Grant Muir.

Stop Kauri Dieback – helping to save our Kauri

Kauri dieback disease is having a devastating effect on Kauri trees, and there is no known cure. In order to save these “giants of the forest” that are among Aotearoa’s best-known native plants, it’s critical to know where outbreaks are occurring as soon as possible in order to protect other trees. Peter Handford and Daniel Bar-Even from Groundtruth are developing an app which will allow people to record and map dieback sightings, so they can take simple steps to help prevent the disease’s spread – like washing boots or staying away from an area where the disease is.

Stop Kauri Dieback will enable all forest visitors, trampers, walkers and conservation volunteers to record sightings of the deadly disease Kauri dieback,” says Handford. “This will help those fighting Kauri dieback to gain a better picture of the impact this disease is having, and where to focus their attention to combat the disease.”

Daniel Bar-Even and Peter Handford..
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