Five great new green innovations – from pop-up rodent tents to tyre dust traps

0
15

Collaboration is key to developing new ideas, and scaling those solutions up is essential for making good progress in any field. This week, Earth Optimism 2021, a global summit hosted online until 4 April by Cambridge Conservation Initiative, has been showcasing conservation innovations to help wildlife and nature.

The Cambridge conference is part of the Earth Optimism Alliance, a movement founded in conjunction with the Smithsonian Institution in the US, with hubs in Nairobi, Sydney and Rio de Janeiro, which brings people together from around the world to talk about what’s working to protect the future of our planet.

Speakers have included environmentalists and TV presenters Liz Bonnin, Sir David Attenborough and Chris Packham. “We can reintroduce species, we can restore habitats, repair and rewild … we have the answers and we have the solutions. Our problem is really simple,” says Packham. “We are not rolling them out rapidly and broadly enough. I firmly believe that now we’re making a last stand for the world’s wildlife.”

Here are five environmental tech innovations from around the globe showcased at the summit.

Seabird saver

The Hookpod has been designed to dramatically reduce albatross and turtle bycatch in longline fisheries by enclosing the barb of the hook until it sinks into the water, out of reach of foraging seabirds. At a predetermined depth, often 10m or 20m, a pressure release mechanism opens the reusable pod, releasing the hook so that fishing can begin.

“Initial trials showed a 95% reduction in seabird bycatch and 50% reduction in turtle bycatch using a Hookpod that opened at 10m depth,” says marine biologist Becky Ingham, chief executive of Hookpod Ltd, who hopes to work with the fishing industry in China, Taiwan, Korea and Japan.

Some Hookpods have already been deployed on Brazilian fishing boats, and in January 2020, they were rolled out across New Zealand, a global seabird hotspot. “Skippers have been reporting zero bycatch so it’s more effective than we even hoped for commercial use,” says Ingham.

The Hookpod device

Every year, longliners fishing for the likes of tuna and swordfish set about 3bn hooks, killing an estimated 300,000 seabirds, many of which are albatrosses. Fifteen out of 22 species of albatross, and six out of seven marine turtle species are threatened with extinction. Hookpod could help secure future populations of these marine animals.

Wildlife camping

Inspired by the devastating bushfires that affected Australia in 2019-2020, a team led by scientist Alex Carthey has created flatpack homes that could help native wildlife recover when their forest habitats have been destroyed. Without shelter, surviving animals such as bandicoots – a marsupial that lives on the ground – or small rodents are much more vulnerable to attack from predators such as cats and foxes, and it is also much harder for them to find food.

The lightweight pods are easy to transport to remote sites in flatpack sheets, then folded out and placed on the bare ground after a fire. The pods are modular, and can be connected together to suit a specific site, and because they are made of recycled cardboard will biodegrade by the time vegetation has started growing back. Holes in the cardboard allow light in and encourage vegetation regrowth, too.

recycled cardboard dome

Biologists at Macquarie University in New South Wales will be testing the prototypes using remote-sensing wildlife cameras over the coming months, in areas affected by bushfires, to find out how animals use them. There is also potential for the pods to be used in other scenarios where animal habitat has been degraded, for example by overgrazing, large-scale clearing or post-mining.

Driving change

Every time a vehicle brakes, accelerates or turns a corner, tiny microplastic particles of tyre dust are worn away and released into the air or washed down drains into waterways. Tyre particles are the second most prevalent microplastic pollutant in the ocean but a group of masters students from Imperial College London and the Royal College of Art have developed a clever solution. British start-up the Tyre Collective was founded by Siobhan Anderson, Hugo Richardson, Hanson Cheng and Deepak Mallya, who won a James Dyson award for their invention in September 2020. They have developed a prototype that can be fixed to a vehicle and uses an electric charge to suck up tyre dust as it is produced, before it enters the environment.

Tyre particles

So far, the team has engineered a way to capture 60% of airborne particles in the lab, and the long-term goal is to increase this capture efficiency, integrate it into electric vehicles and reuse particles to make new tyres or other products.

A sound idea

One of the biggest threats to cetaceans is accidental bycatch in fishing nets. The La Plata or toninha dolphin (Pontoporia blainvillei), dates back a million years and is listed as vulnerable on the IUCN red list – its closest relative is the Amazonian pink river dolphin. Found in coastal and often shallow waters in Brazil, Uruguay and Argentina, these cetaceans are particularly at risk of becoming entangled in nets.

Pinger to deter porpoises

Unusually, one population of up to 80 of these small dolphins lives in the estuary of Babitonga Bay in south Brazil, where fishing is a key industry. A team of researchers at the Toninhas Project is using photo identification to monitor the pod, and is developing ways to use sound to deter them from getting too close to fishing nets. A small battery-operated rubber “pinger” is attached to the fishing net that emits sounds that should prevent the dolphins from getting too close, hopefully offering an easy, low-cost solution that the local fishing industry can be encouraged to adopt.

Game safari

In Kenya and the US, a team of conservationists, game designers, educators and even a “professor of play” are creating video games and augmented reality that use real wildlife data to encourage people to protect endangered animals.

Unseen Empire is a game created by Internet of Elephants, which brings a groundbreaking decade-long study of animal camera traps to life in an entertaining way. The player can identify rare species in hundreds of wildlife photos, place camera traps to try to catch a glimpse of the clouded leopard, reveal scientific data, meet researchers, and uncover evidence that could help protect the habitat of the clouded leopard.

Unseen Empire video game

Biologist Rafael Mares, who previously worked in the Peruvian Amazon tracking white-lipped peccaries, and in the Republic of Congo observing gorillas, now uses the data collected by other wildlife researchers to create digital experiences that he hopes will inspire a wider audience to engage with conservation. “We need to focus people’s attention on the importance of wildlife and habitat conservation: what better way to do this than to use powerful platforms like games to make this fun, exciting and interesting, as well as worthwhile?” he says.

Find more age of extinction coverage here, and follow biodiversity reporters Phoebe Weston and Patrick Greenfield on Twitter for all the latest news and features

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here