Over two years ago the NEXT foundation announced start-up funding for the new R&D company Zero Invasive Predators (ZIP). This past week I visited their intensive field site at Bottle Rock peninsula in the Marlborough Sounds for an update. Bottle Rock peninsula is 440 hectares of native forest and ZIP are furiously developing, deploying and testing an arsenal of predator detection and removal tools with the goal of using a virtual barrier of the best performing devices to prevent possums, rats and stoats from reinvading.Bottle Rock peninsula in the Marlborough Sounds, New Zealand (Photo by James Russell)
Walking along the Queen Charlotte Track to Ship cove, one of Captain James Cook’s favourite locations in New Zealand, the density of devices along the virtual barrier is clear. Spaced every ten metres, ones sees trap boxes lined up in to the distance. Even at every ten metres, invasive possums and rats still manage to sneak through multiple lines of devices without being detected. The current tools available for predator control are insufficient for ZIP to scale up to larger sites using the ‘remove and protect’ model of the virtual barrier, and require an innovative R&D approach based on the Silicon Valley model to make the breakthroughs which are already required now, but will be critical for achieving a Predator Free New Zealand by 2050.
Some of the breakthrough technological developments include remotely monitoring traps with wireless technology. Every morning the team receives an SMS update of which traps were triggered the previous night. During my visit it’s the time of year juvenile possums are dispersing, and so each morning there is always one or two possums in traps trying to break through the barrier. In order to better understand the behaviour of these ‘lonely possums’ ZIP will actually be releasing radio-collared individual possums in to the site to see how far they roam. This type of highly experimental invasion biology has been used successfully on offshore islands with rodents, allowing biosecurity systems to be precisely tailored.
James Russell is a science advisor to Zero Invasive Predators.