Conservation efforts go high-tech with crowdsourcing

Hawaii has more than its fair share of invasive species, but now some high-tech help could be the answer to stopping that invasion.

Kauai is experiencing an invasion of Australian Tree ferns on Kauai, but the Nature Conservancy has found a computerized way to identify the infestation.

“Everybody has their own profile and so when they go and they tag something, it records it,” explained Trae Menard, Nature Conservancy. “Each person has their own scorecard, so then it becomes kind of a competition. More people who agree with that person’s tag, that means they’re a better tagger.”

Invasive species can be a problem in Hawaii, especially when it comes to the islands’ watershed.

“Years ago when we first started doing aerial surveys with helicopters on Kauai, Australian tree fern, we found it everywhere. It was definitely something we felt poses a significant threat to the integrity of the watershed,” Menard said.

If you go to the Nature Conservancy’s website, you will find a path to crowdsourcing to help tag the Australian tree fern.

Menard says the more taggers, the better. “Right now, we’re trying to figure where to draw our line of defense. The areas that these people are working in are the areas of the densest core areas and we’re trying to define that core so that we can contain it from spreading,” Menard said.

It’s a tough job. Each plant can create 34 million spores and each one of those can create another plant.

Crowdsourcing is a way for volunteers to focus their resources more efficiently. This high-tech effort came from an informal staff meeting and Menard says it may lead to other innovations when it comes to protecting the environment.

“Now that we see how successful it is, I think that certainly the light bulbs are going off in everybody’s head like, wow, there’s definitely a lot of opportunity here,” Menard said.

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