16 July 2021


When you want to help nature recover from the worst fires in living memory, you need to think outside the box. Last year WWF-Australia launched Regenerate Australia and as part of that we ran an innovation challenge called Innovate to Regenerate. We called for Aussie innovators with new ideas to help wildlife survive and recover from bushfires.

WWF-Australia’s CEO, Dermot O’Gorman, speaks about some of our most exciting Innovate to Regenerate partnerships and how they form a vital part in our work to Regenerate Australia.

WWF-Australia’s Dermot O’Gorman explains why Regenerate Australia is unique

Unprecedented damage calls for an unprecedented response, at a scale never before attempted – which is why WWF-Australia was driven to develop our groundbreaking plan to Regenerate Australia. As our nation’s largest ever nature restoration program, we needed to make sure it represented the goals of both WWF and Australia as a whole.

“As WWF-Australia began the task of bushfire recovery, we wanted to make sure we centred our work around what Australians needed. So we engaged in an extensive nationwide listening campaign, listening to Indigenous voices and views, and those of bushfire-affected communities. We asked them what it would take to rebuild Australia and restore what had been lost."

“What we discovered from listening to these communities was that Australians right across our amazingly diverse nation wanted a vision that went beyond ‘building back better’. They wanted a plan that created a different, more sustainable future in which people and nature thrive. Traditional Owner Knowledge was a consistent thread throughout all our conversations and plays a key part of our strategy.” ~ Dermot O’Gorman

As we aim to create a more sustainable future than ever before, Regenerate Australia will mix tried-and-true methods with bold new ideas.

For example, we’ve been speaking to practitioners of Indigenous cultural burning as part of our regeneration efforts. Traditional burning uses small, cool, controlled flames that are proven to prevent fire risks, rejuvenate local flora, protect native animal habitats and help make more fire-resilient landscapes.

Our goal with Regenerate Australia is to rehabilitate and restore natural habitats and build Australia’s resilience against further climate and fire-related disasters.

As Dermot puts it, “Regenerate Australia is a commitment to every animal, habitat and community to restore, protect and support what’s most important for a resilient future.”

WWF-Australia CEO Dermot
© WWF-Aus / Laurent Desarnaud

“We cannot Regenerate Australia with our eyes closed to the risks that climate change poses to our people, wildlife and wild places. Australia can make a major contribution to the global shift to a low carbon future.” ~ Dermot O’Gorman

Dermot believes that the only way to truly future-proof Australian communities is to protect them against the dangers of global warming. Regenerate Australia places climate action at the heart of all our work.

Dermot O’Gorman on innovation as the key to Regenerating Australia

Big problems need big, bold, innovative solutions. We need to think outside the box and work at scale with a range of partners and industries. That’s why programs like our Innovate to Regenerate Challenge aimed to mobilise the greatest minds to discover the brightest solutions for future-proofing Australia.

“We put out the call for solutions to help restore species and landscapes, build their resilience and adapt to a changing climate. And the ideas flooded in,” said Dermot.

In fact, there were so many great ideas, WWF-Australia increased the funding by a third. So instead of the $1 million pledged, we will now provide $1.32 million to 9 exciting projects. Dermot explained that this would “help proponents to develop a proof-of-concept – or, in some cases, run a pilot or scale-up their project.”

Some of the proof-of-concepts so far have shown enormous promise. One exciting example is the Bluetooth ear tag for koalas developed by koala ecologist Dr Romane Cristescu and her innovative team at the University of the Sunshine Coast. The tag is powered by a tiny solar panel, which ensures that batteries will never need replacing and should last for the lifetime of the koala. This is vital technology for locating koalas in a time of crisis.

However, Bluetooth signals only travel for 20-30 metres, so the team needed to create something more effective over long distances. Our funding will enable them to develop an extremely light ear tag with Very High Frequency (VHF) technology that can be picked up for hundreds of metres.


Dr Cristescu with a Solar VHF tag
Dr Cristescu with a Solar VHF tag © WWF-Australia / patchworks


Koala receiving a Solar VHF eartag
Koala receiving a Solar VHF eartag © WWF-Australia / patchworks

This will allow the team to quickly locate koalas if a bushfire is approaching. Then, once the koalas are returned to the wild, they’re easy to find again for health checks and to ensure they’re accessing the food they need.

In short, the VHF solar ear tag could play a crucial role in saving koalas and conserving their genetic diversity.

Another example is the cardboard habitat pods that Macquarie University wildlife researcher Alexandra Carthey will soon be field trialling in partnership with WWF. The pods are made of completely biodegradable cardboard, coated with beeswax to keep them weatherproof for about a year. Her plan is to place them in fire-affected areas, where the burnt undergrowth has left small bush animals with no place to hide from predators.

Birds of prey, cats and foxes all head directly to fire-affected regions to access easy meals. Strategically placing these pods will connect separate forested areas, allowing safe passage for small marsupials. By the time the pods decompose, the underbrush should have regrown.

Dr Carthey with a habitat pod
© WWF-Australia / Sienna Channell

WWF’s Innovate to Regenerate Challenge

When we started the innovation challenge, we divided it into two phases. Both the koala ear tag and the habitat pods were responses to the first challenge: focusing on bushfire regeneration. In addition to these two projects, WWF will provide funding for:

  • Upscaling the South East Australia Sanctuary Operations Network (SEASON)
  • Seed enhancement technologies to restore severely burnt landscapes
  • Drones and cultural burning practices to help fireproof koalas
  • Drone monitoring of priority koala populations in fire-prone landscapes
  • Fire for Food: showcasing Indigenous traditional agriculture
  • Wombat-powered recovery: harnessing an ecosystem engineer to increase bushfire resilience
  • Restoring the nutritional landscape for eucalypt folivores

The Innovate to Regenerate Challenge projects are about thinking differently about how to scale to the size of the challenge. While our vision is ambitious and bold, we know that co-designing the future with those most impacted is essential to sustainability.

Going forward into the second phase of our Innovate to Regenerate Challenge will uncover innovative, investable venture and business ideas that work to:

  • Drive the shift towards a new regenerative economy
  • Secure Australia’s natural resources
  • Mitigate climate change impacts and drive climate preparedness
  • Identify and support community-led solutions capable of replication nationally

These community-led solutions will also focus on income-producing ideas to boost their resilience in the face of the changing climate.

What role can you play?

Regenerate Australia is the largest nature restoration program in our nation’s history. It is such a privilege to work with a broad range of partners on-the-ground nationwide, as well as with governments, businesses, scientists, wildlife carers and communities to restore what we have lost.

This is the moment in time to think big. It will take us all working together to recover what was lost, and future-proof our country.

Everyone can take part and do their bit to Regenerate Australia. An easy way to get involved is by signing up to be part of our journey. We’ll plant a tree on your behalf to get your started, so we can Regenerate Australia, together.

Join us on our mission to Regenerate Australia, and we’ll plant a native tree on your behalf. One Signature = One Tree Planted.