Turner Family Foundation\

Turner Family Foundation's Ben O-Hara and WWF-Australia's Tanya Pritchard watch on as Dendra System's Michael Whitehouse flies a hi-tech drone capable of spreading millions of seeds in a few hours © WWF-Australia / Patrick Hamilton

Drone plants “koala caviar” to help iconic species

22 Dec 2021

Keywords
  • koalas
  • queensland
  • Regenerate Australia
A hi-tech drone has spread millions of seeds in just a few hours to plant a koala corridor west of Brisbane.

It’s one of the first times in Australia drone technology has been used to create koala habitat.

The project is a collaboration between the World Wide Fund for Nature-Australia, the Australian Government, the Turner Family Foundation and Dendra Systems.

Federal funding is being provided from the $18 million koala package announced by Environment Minister Sussan Ley.

WWF-Australia, has also contributed funding, as part of its Regenerate Australia program, with Dendra Systems contracted to conduct the drone seeding and monitoring to ensure success.

In phase one (on 23 November), the drone dispersed 45 kilograms of seed across five hectares on the Turner Family Foundation property at Hidden Vale in Grandchester, 76 km west of Brisbane. Hidden Vale is a 4560 hectare private protected area incorporating a Nature Refuge of more than 3100 hectares.

The seed mix contained 40 different plant species to create a corridor rich in biodiversity. Plants include native grasses and koala food and shade trees such as blue gums, iron barks, melaleucas and acacias.

Blue gums (Eucalyptus tereticornis) are such a favourite food for the region’s koalas, the trees have been dubbed “koala caviar”.

The plantings will boost safety for the local population with tracking collars showing koalas have been walking across the disused cow paddock, potentially exposing them to attack from wild dogs.

Tanya Pritchard, Landscape Restoration Project Manager, WWF-Australia, said drone seeding could be a turning point in koala recovery.

“WWF aims to double the number of koalas across eastern Australia by 2050. To do that we need to test innovative solutions such as drone seeding. If it’s a success here it can be rolled out in other locations,” Ms Pritchard said.

In total, koala food and shade trees will be planted across 11 hectares at Hidden Vale. It’s estimated this will generate 15,000 trees. Not all seeds will successfully germinate or survive the sapling stage, which is part of the natural process.

At Thornton View Nature Refuge, further south west in the Lockyer Valley, another 30 hectares will be drone seeded resulting in an estimated 40,000 koala food and shade trees.

Hidden Vale and Thornton View Nature Refuge are both owned by the Turner Family Foundation (TFF) and managed for the benefit of native wildlife including koalas.

TFF, in partnership with WWF-Australia, is planting corridors across its land holdings, to reconnect koala populations separated by cleared grazing flats.

Koalas in Queensland and New South Wales are in decline impacted by disease, vehicle strikes, dog attacks, tree clearing, heatwaves, and years of drought followed by the 2019-2020 bushfires.

But Ben O’Hara, TFF General Manager, Land & Environment, said at Hidden Vale there are promising signs.

In just three years, 45 koalas have been individually identified on the property. Twenty of those koalas received lifesaving interventions including treatment for Chlamydia. Twenty-eight joeys have also been detected in this sample over the past three years.

“We’re generating what we describe as a koala fountain – a strong source population that can spread out along habitat corridors and bolster koala numbers throughout the region,” Mr O’Hara said.

Dr Susan Graham, CEO and co-founder of Dendra Systems, said Dendra’s technology is optimised for biodiversity restoration and this project can serve as a blueprint for bushfire restoration and degraded land recovery globally, strengthening ecosystems resilience and paving the way for scalable nature-based solutions to restore this beautiful natural world.

“Without a massively scalable approach to restoring ecosystems, we cannot reverse the damage and restore natural systems to health,” Dr Graham said.

“Working side-by-side with leading environmental organisations and committed landowners, Dendra Systems has the ambitious plan to bring ecosystems back to pristine condition and pave the way for recovering critical habitats in Australia and scale restoration of ecosystems around the world,” she said.

This project is supported by the Australian Government’s Bushfire Recovery for Wildlife and their Habitat Program.

About Regenerate Australia

Regenerate Australia is the largest and most innovative wildlife recovery and landscape regeneration program 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. Australia’s eastern koalas need support, you can add your support and help Regenerate Australia at www.wwf.org.au/regenerate-australia

About Dendra Systems

Dendra Systems is a pioneer in ecosystem restoration at scale. Dendra’s vision is to empower humanity to restore the balance of our natural world. Global scale ecosystem degradation with its associated biodiversity loss, and increasing carbon in our atmosphere, are two of the world's greatest challenges. Dendra Systems is developing the most powerful tools for ecosystem restoration today, putting the power of ecology-trained AI and automation into the hands of environmental managers. Find out more at www.dendra.io

About Turner Family Foundation

Established in 2017 by Flight Centre founders, Jude and Skroo Turner, the Turner Family Foundation focuses in ecological restoration of the Turners south east Queensland rural properties and operates the Hidden Vale Wildlife Centre in partnership with the University Queensland. The foundations aims of restoring habitat and wildlife for the betterment of future generations. www.turnerfamilyfoundation.com.au


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