Drone Project Looks to Fight Forest Pests for Tūhoe

Rapaera Black Contracting Ltd’s Rapera Black and Toi Ohomai Institute of Technology’s Māori Studies Lecturer, Eru Biddle at the test site near Taneatua

Monday, 13 Feb 2017

Environmental pests in the Eastern Bay of Plenty have a new reason to fear the skies. An innovative research project from Toi Ohomai Institute of Technology and Rapaera Black Contracting Ltd, uses drone technology to help Tūhoe win the war against possums.

“Tūhoe country is the largest tract of indigenous forest left in the North Island,” says Craig Morley, Associate Professor - Resource Management at Toi Ohomai. 

“Using drone technology we can help the iwi to protect, if not restore, the mana of their land eaten away by pests.”

Born from the merger of Rotorua-based Waiariki Institute of Technology and Tauranga’s Bay of Plenty Polytechnic, Toi Ohomai Institute of Technology is now the third largest ITP in the country, keen to use its new research capacity for the benefit of New Zealand.

Through UAV drone technology, the project captures spectral images, which reveal clusters of native fauna such as Kamahi and Titoki, habitually eaten by possums. 

Using GIS software, the research team then ring fences areas for trapping, rather than employing more costly and time-consuming grid-based methods.

“Like the area used in these initial tests near Taneatua, most of our native landscape is actually small patches of forest refuges, ravines and inaccessible places,” states Craig. “Areas we can access now we are on the frontlines of pest control innovation.”

With Tūhoe in the process of opening three new environmental centres, project partner, contractor, Rapera Black, says his iwi are supportive of the ground-breaking project and watching with interest. 

“My passion for the environment comes from being Māori, born and bred in the bush. Now I want to help educate Tūhoe about the bush and make it flourish.”

Looking to use the Toi Ohomai project to educate his workforce on more efficient pest management techniques, Rapera encourages Māori to get involved.

“Being smarter about eradicating pests is not only the future, it is vital to invigorating local job prospects.”

With a Toi Ohomai point of difference the institute’s focus on teaching the practical and vocational skills sought by employers, Craig is adamant graduates can win the war against wild pests.

“Our suite of sustainability-based graduate and postgraduate qualifications look to attract people who are not only passionate about conserving their native habitat, as well as those who are into protecting where they live for future generations.

“If we can turn the tide against pests in a trial pilot like this, then the sky’s the limit, literally.”

Photo caption: Rapaera Black Contracting Ltd’s Rapera Black and Toi Ohomai Institute of Technology’s Māori Studies Lecturer, Eru Biddle at the test site near Taneatua