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Drones used in fight against invasive rats in the Galapagos Islands

On Wednesday 30th January, Kiwi start-up Environment and Conservation Technologies (ECT), alongside Island Conservation, completed the world’s first eradication of invasive vertebrates using drones on two islands in the Galapagos.

Since early in 2018, a black (Rattus rattus) and brown rat (Rattus norvegicus) infestation had been confirmed on Seymour Norte. The Ecuadorian Government issued an emergency due to these invasive rats threatening the survival of unique species of seabird, such as the frigate and swallow-tailed gull.

In response to this emergency ECT provided the innovative solution; using two heavy-lift battery powered multi-copters with dual GPS, for precise aerial baiting. Both drones were flown consecutively allowing for a swift operation covering both Isla Seymour Norte and Islet Mosquera, moving almost 1.5 tonnes of bait over 184 hectares in just 2 days.

These drones are equipped with a specialised fixed spreader system, allowing for an effective 40m swath range. This system offered high accuracy and control previously unseen across other applications methods. The drones were pre-programmed prior to the application with predetermined blocks across the island, using varying application rates depending on the topography. During the application a 50% overlap was used to provide excellent consistency and uniformity.

South American Regional Director of Island Conservation, Karl Campbell, said “the use of drones is more precise; it also increases feasibility, and reduces eradication costs of invasive rodents in small and midsize islands worldwide.” (Island Conservation, 2019)

With easier logistics, increased control, and greater reporting functions, ECT’s drones and expertise has offered the advance required in this ever expanding technical environment. This lessened the environmental impact, follow up work, ground personnel, and application time compared to other baiting methods.

The phenomenal success of the drone project on these islands has led to high interest, both internationally and in New Zealand, for similar project completion using ECT’s drones and operational process.

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