Nature Conservancy uses high-tech plane to eliminate invasive weeds

Published: Nov. 12, 2008 at 9:56 PM HST|Updated: Nov. 13, 2008 at 4:04 PM HST
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Trae Menard
Trae Menard
Stephen Ambagis
Stephen Ambagis

By Duane Shimogawa - bio | email

LIHUE, Kauai (KHNL) - It's a new breakthrough to help kill off invasive weeds in Hawaii.

In this Earth and Sea Project report, the Nature Conservancy is testing a camera system, that can map thousands of acres of often, inaccessible land, from the air.

It's part of the plan to slow down and eliminate the growth of Hawaii's nearly 500 invasive weeds.

"The problem is detecting those one individual amongst a large area of native forests. It was very difficult and so that's why we needed to use this technique, which is using extremely high resolution imaging," said Trae Menard, Nature Conservancy Kauai Director.

It maps out about 80,000 acres of heavily forested lands.

"There's really no way we'll completely eradicate the weed from the island. The idea then would be to try to remove it from the areas where it's just sprouting up in individuals and work back towards the infestation.

After a flight, they download the images to a computer. Then everything is analyzed and they map out areas where invasive weeds live. They then travel by helicopter and spray light herbicide on the pesky weeds.

"At this point we're just really ramping up the system and really trying to find out what we can do with it and we are very excited about all the perspectives we are looking at trying to do," said Stephen Ambagis, an image analyst.

These high-tech cameras capture images so detailed that tree leaves can be identified.

"I kind of knew what I had signed up for here and getting it started, but I didn't expect this system to have as much versatility as it does have and to allow growth as much as it has," said pilot Jimmy Hoffert. "The challenges and the threats we face protecting native forests in Hawaii are very, almost insurmountable without new technologies like this."

Taking flight to make it harder for invasive weeds to take over our state's precious native plants.

The Nature Conservancy uses private, State and Federal funding for this $400,000 dollar pilot project.

They hope to use it in other areas across the state.