Satellites – A New Bird’s Eye View On Conservation

Satellite imagery is now being used for conservation! US conservationist have enlisted and joined forces the technology from Digital Globe, allowing web users and volunteers to scan the native forests of Hawaii to find and locate invasive species such as Australian Tree Fern which is out-competing the native and endemic species for natural resources.

Like Madagascar and many other small islands there are high levels of endemism, meaning the majority of the species of plants and animals are found nowhere else in the world.  These endemic species are highly vulnerable to invasive or ‘alien’ species, which often are in direct competition for natural resources, and often it’s the endemic species that loose out. Examples of this in the UK are already prevalent with the most known invasive species being Rhododendron.

So what is the story in Hawaii?

Well, there are many invasive plants that are becoming a huge problem in Hawaii, some island forests being degraded by 27% through deforestation and invasive species, which means that conservation is vital otherwise species may be lost forever. One of the most common invasive species is the Australian Tree Fern. It reproduces via spores, which are able to travel 12km being carried by wind from the parent plant. This means that they are able to penetrate into dense remote areas of vegetation where it is hard to track or locate on foot. And it is plants and trees like these that can be seen using satellite imagery so they can be located, mapped and possibly removed before they become a hazard to local species.

Another species that is being targeted is the ‘Fire Tree’ which is native to the Canary Islands, and was introduced by the Portuguese in the 1800’s as a common ornamental garden and food plant. The Fire tree is highly destructive to its surrounding plant species. It has the ability to increase the levels of nitrogen in the soil which makes it hard for the native species to survive. And it is due to its ability to change the soil chemistry that allows it to be successful in varying different habitats.


The project however, is still in its early stages with it only starting in June, however over 5,000 individuals have already began using the site which is an encouraging sign.  If this proves to be a success, the question to be asked is if it could be used in other countries which face the same problem? It could in fact be the new bird’s eye view of on conservation… literally.

To learn more on Hawaii’s invasive species issue Click Here

To check for more UK and EU related invasive species projects & news Click Here

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