Pest eradication could bring massive climate change gains

November 12, 2021 1:51 pm

Eradicating pest animals from New Zealand could bring significant gains for Aotearoa’s climate change goals, Predator Free 2050 Ltd (PF2050 Ltd) Science Director Dan Tompkins says.

Predator Free 2050 Ltd was established by the government in 2016 with the goal of eradicating possums, mustelids and rats from New Zealand. As well as a range of ongoing conservation initiatives and research to support that goal, PF2050 Ltd is working to better understand how pest eradication and vegetation restoration can contribute to carbon capture with research co-funded by the Clare Foundation.

“As we see in the Climate Change Commission final advice to Government and in recent research by Forest and Bird, there’s a big overlap with pest eradication and climate change. The carbon accounting project aims to measure – for the first time ever – how much better our natural environment would soak up carbon without a large number of carbon-dioxide emitting animals and the ecosystem damage they cause,” Dan Tompkins says.

“Businesses are increasingly mindful of their environmental impact and measuring their carbon footprint. It’s become a business tool informing better business practice. This research also aims to guide better decision-making – as the saying goes, if you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.

“For the first time ever we’ll be able to evaluate how well restoration efforts contribute to carbon sequestration, ecosystem regeneration, and sustainable development, and see how we’re progressing in New Zealand,” Dan Tompkins says.

Clare Foundation Manager and Change Strategist Adele Cubitt Cohen says providing catalytic funding for a project that will have a huge influence on understanding how vegetation restoration and predator eradication gains can contribute to carbon capture is an exciting opportunity.

“As a proactive funder, we are always seeking out initiatives that will ignite extraordinary change for generations to come, and the carbon accounting project is a perfect example.

“The climate crisis is a key focus area for us and through our partnership with PF2050 Ltd to fund Island Conservation we know we can support global leadership and innovation in a meaningful and impactful way,” Adele Cubitt Cohen says.

The research, carried out by Island Conservation in partnership with The Mullion Group, a data analytics company based in Canberra, and terraPulse Inc., a satellite mapping company based in the United States, aims to develop a measuring system based on retrospective analysis of 791 islands. It will combine artificial intelligence and remote sensing technologies – mostly of vegetation – to quantify gains made from previously successful pest animal eradications. It can also bring cloud computing and big data to bear, creating a scalable system to quantify carbon gains from restoration efforts.

Island Conservation’s Conservation Head of Innovation David Will says patterns and trends in vegetation can be tracked over time, and through carbon modelling, the project quantifies the impact of invasive species on islands and the carbon benefit of their eradication, in terms of tonnes of carbon dioxide captured.

“Case studies indicate that pest eradication on islands can positively alter terrestrial and coastal carbon systems through native vegetation recovery, restoring terrestrial-marine nutrient cycling, and improving near-shore water quality. By building a systematic monitoring approach we hope to quantify the impacts of these interventions, with future implications for assessing the natural capital of the more than 3,400 at-risk islands that are home to threatened wildlife.

“Once the underpinning system is developed, we will look to support its rapid transition to the New Zealand context to benefit the Predator Free 2050 goal,” David Will says.

The work could also open up opportunities for carbon and conservation-related investment.

Photo credit: Island Conservation

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