DRONES fitted with high-resolution thermal cameras and bioacoustic recognition technology are being deployed to help find and protect koalas in southeast Queensland.
Making the announcement in Parliament on Friday, Environment and Heritage Protection Minister Steven Miles said the project was part of a multi million dollar strategy to protect the species and boost its dwindling population.
““We have committed an additional $12.1 million for koala conservation as well as a further $2.6 million per annum of ongoing funding for koala protection,” Mr Miles said.
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“We’ve also invested $6 million in wildlife hospitals that take care of our sick or injured koalas.”
The Queensland University of Technology (QUT) will lead the state funded drone-driven mission after first developing the program more than two years ago.
The first test flight was conducted in bushland near Australia Zoo on the Sunshine Coast in early 2015 before the drones were trialled in the newly developed suburbs of Pimpama and Coomera on the northern Gold Coast last year.
The cameras attached to the unmanned aircraft detects the little animals’ body heat and is said to be able to scan four hectares of bushland 90 minutes faster than humans.
“This project will allow us to tell, in real time, how many koalas are in an area, whether the population is increasing or decreasing, and also identify unoccupied areas of suitable habitat which could be recolonized,” Mr Miles said.
“Drone technology will provide a more robust survey methodology for detecting koalas than traditional methods, with a flow-on of other benefits including shorter survey times, lower costs and larger survey areas, and greatly increased accuracy of koala counts – all of which can lead to better koala conservation,” he said.
“There are real gaps in our knowledge about how many koalas there are, they can be hard to spot high up in trees, and using both these technologies we can better locate, track and protect our precious koalas.”
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University of Queensland koala researcher Dr Bill Ellis said the project would not just help koalas, but would also be useful for other purposes.
“We are trying to develop cost-effective koala monitoring using bioacoustics,” Dr Elllis said.
“This project will also create a web of intelligence-gathering that will help us monitor koala populations and will be good for monitoring invasive species.
“Our approach can engage local land owners and managers in finding, understanding and conserving this important species.
“The $80,000 in grant funding is a great opportunity for us to test the practicality of our research in the field and provide some important data for conservation of an iconic species.”
Land clearing puts Queensland’s threatened species in peril
THE funding announcement came after an independent scientific report revealed the dangers to Queensland’s threatened species caused by land clearing.
Minister Miles said the scientific review of the impacts of land clearing in the state sounded the alarm for a number of threatened species.
“The level of tree clearing in Queensland is very concerning,” Mr Miles said. “Of all the deforestation hotspots in the world, Queensland is the only one in a developed nation.”
“This report paints a disturbing picture of how land clearing causes species death and habitat loss, and reduces the resilience of endangered animal and plant species to adapt to climate change.
“It shows that any further land clearing will put more threatened species at threat of extinction, impact on streams, rivers, wetlands and the Great Barrier Reef marine lagoon, and will contribute to climate change impacts.
“It’s not good enough, that’s why we introduced sensible tree clearing laws to the Parliament last year.”
Mr Miles said land-clearing rates doubled in Queensland in the first two years of the LNP government.
“In 2012, the LNP’s Andrew Cripps said that existing laws would not be enforced, existing investigations would be canned and that any existing charges would be dropped.
“In the first two years of the LNP Government, tree clearing nearly doubled – up to nearly 300,000 hectares of trees per year.
“That’s an area more than twice the size of Brisbane. Or 10 times the size of the city of Rockhampton.
“The LNP should be ashamed of themselves for voting down these important reforms that would lower our emissions and protect habitat for our native wildlife.
“The Palaszczuk Government remains committed to stopping broadscale tree clearing in Qld and we will take that position to the next election.”
Queensland’s Species Technical Committee chairperson, Dr John Neldner said the committee of scientists provided recommendations to the Government on the conservation status of threatened plant and animal species in Queensland.
“Land clearing has been directly responsible for two plant species becoming extinct in the wild, and has been identified as a threatening process for many of the 739 threatened flora species and 210 threatened fauna species in Queensland,” Dr Neldner said.
“Accurate and up-to-date assessment of the status is important for setting conservation priorities and protecting Queensland’s unique biodiversity.”
Mr Miles said the government valued the information the report provided and will consider its findings in deciding future actions to protect Queensland’s threatened species.
The report is available publicly online.