18 July 2021
TINY SOLAR PANEL COULD HELP SAVE KOALAS FROM BUSHFIRES
WWF backs bold Aussie innovators as Regenerate Australia steps up a gear.
The World Wide Fund for Nature-Australia today announced an investment of $1.32 million into innovative projects designed to help wildlife survive and recover from bushfires. These innovation grants come as part of WWF’s Regenerate Australia – the nation’s largest nature regeneration program – which steps up a gear from today.
The 9 innovative projects range from a koala location tag, powered by a solar panel the size of a 5 cent piece, to temporary cardboard homes for wildlife, to a study examining the role of wombat burrows in helping animals shelter from fires and predators.
“As part of our vision to Regenerate Australia, we’re re-imagining how to solve the challenges facing our wildlife and wild places,” said WWF-Australia’s CEO Dermot O’Gorman.
“Bold new ideas are crucial to help restore species and landscapes, build their resilience, and adapt to a changing climate. That’s why, coming off the back of the 2020 bushfires, WWF ran a national innovation challenge – Innovate to Regenerate”.
“We are investing $1.32 million in 9 amazing innovators to develop the proof of concept or in some cases run a pilot or scale up their project.
“Using WWF’s own innovation platform “Impactio” to select the most exciting projects from over 50 applications has given us a portfolio of early stage innovations to test, validate and scale on the ground,” he said.
Solar VHF tags for koalas
Koala ecologist Dr Romane Cristescu and her team at the University of the Sunshine Coast, are the brains behind the solar powered ear tag for koalas. They have already developed a Bluetooth koala ear tag, powered by a tiny solar panel. But Bluetooth signals only travel for 20-30 metres.
The WWF funding will enable Dr Cristescu and PhD candidate Kye McDonald to develop the same sized ear tag but this time with Very High Frequency (VHF) technology which can be picked up for hundreds of metres.
“VHF solar ear tags will enable us to locate koalas and take them into care when a large bushfire is approaching. Once the danger has passed, and their forest home is regenerating, we can return the koalas,” Dr Cristescu said.
“In those first few months after koalas are returned to the wild we can find them again and do a visual health check to make sure they’re getting enough food. If necessary we can take them back into care.
“The ear tags are light and because they’re powered by a solar panel there is no need for a battery which needs changing every six months. We believe these ear tags will last for the life of the koala.
“An estimated 60,000 koalas were impacted by the bushfires. As intense bushfires become more common, the VHF solar ear tag could play a crucial role in saving koalas and conserving genetic diversity,” she said.
Habitat pods for wildlife
Macquarie University wildlife researcher Dr Alexandra Carthey said the WWF funding will enable field trials of her unique idea of cardboard habitat pods for wildlife.
“Bushfires destroy vegetation where small animals hide. Raptors arrive within minutes after a fire, while feral cats and foxes can travel many kilometres towards fires because they know the hunting will be excellent. They come in and decimate our native animals who are vulnerable and exposed in a burnt landscape,” Dr Carthey said.
“Habitat pods would give small animals somewhere to hide while the vegetation regrows. They come as a flat sheet of cardboard, which is assembled on site and can be arranged in clusters or used to create corridors between patches of unburnt habitat.
“They’ll be made of recycled cardboard, water proofed with bees wax, and will simply biodegrade away over about 12 months, leaving no trace. By that time, the vegetation cover will have regenerated. This idea could help small native animals persist following fires, allowing for a more rapid recovery,” she said.
Another project will test the theory that wombat burrows provide a safe haven for many animals during fires and a place to hide from predators afterwards. Wombats have multiple burrows with most unoccupied at any given time.
Sensor cameras will record the range of wildlife using bare-nosed wombat burrows in forest areas still recovering from fires in the Upper Murray region of Victoria and New South Wales.
“Wombats have declined and face many threats. Simply by protecting and restoring populations we could improve the resilience of many species to wildfires by providing wombat burrow safe havens throughout millions of hectares of fire-prone forests,” said Associate Professor Dale Nimmo from Charles Sturt University.
WWF-Australia is backing Aussie innovators through investing in the following 9 projects:
1. Finding furry friends forever – solar VHF koala ear tag
2. Habitat pods: protecting prey from predators in post-fire landscapes
3. Upscaling the South East Australia Sanctuary Operations Network (SEASON)
4. Seed enhancement technologies to restore severely burned landscapes
5. Using drones and cultural burning practices to help bushfire-proof koala habitat
6. Drone monitoring of priority koala populations in fire-prone landscapes
7. Fire for Food: Showcasing Indigenous Traditional Agriculture
8. Wombat-powered recovery: harnessing an ecosystem engineer to increase bushfire resilience
9. Restoring the nutritional landscape for eucalypt folivores
WWF-Australia will run a second Innovate to Regenerate Challenge focusing on social ventures – income-producing ideas – led by bushfire affected communities to boost their resilience to climate shocks.
These innovation grant announcements come as WWF-Australia launched the next phase of Regenerate Australia, with a powerful advertisement filmed from the perspective of animals impacted by the devastating 2019-2020 bushfires. The ad, Australian Nature Needs Our Australian Nature, will debut on TV and social media today, alongside a billboard campaign.
It has been created to inspire a massive effort to restore habitat lost in the bushfires. WWF-Australia will plant a tree on behalf of every person who supports the organisation’s goal to Regenerate Australia, when they sign up at Regenerate Australia
“Nature needs our help. Recovery from a disaster of the magnitude of the 2019/20 bushfires will take time and a mammoth effort across all sectors of society, business, community and government,” said Mr O’Gorman.
“We’re appealing to the determined, resilient and kind nature of Australians to help save Australian nature after the mega fires impacted three billion animals.”
About Regenerate Australia
Regenerate Australia is one of the largest and most innovative wildlife recovery and landscape regeneration programs in Australia’s history. Launched by WWF-Australia in October 2020, the multi-year program will rehabilitate, repopulate and restore wildlife and habitats affected by the 2019-2020 bushfires, and help to future-proof Australia against the impacts of changing climate. Find out more at www.wwf.org.au/what-we-do/regenerate-australia.