Title: Aquila Project
Overview: Starting in 2012, the Aquila project’s aims to eradicate rubber vine infestation in the West Kimberley on the lower Fitzroy River. Rubber vine (Cryptostegia grandiflora), a weed of National Significance, is a woody perennial vine that colonises areas and aggressively forms impenetrable thickets, dense canopies. It smothers and chokes native vegetation, preventing both human and animal access and reducing biodiversity.
The project has incorporated a cycle of monitoring, evaluation, review and program of continuous improvement with annual on-ground activities informed by the analysis and evaluation of on-going data with that collected from the previous year. After four years of evolution, the project is now using crowd sourcing to identify occurrences of the weed rubber vine in ultra-high resolution aerial photographs.
Delivery organisation: John Szymanski, Project Manager and Team Leader
Outcomes: During the dry months, ‘Team Rubber Vine’ (comprising indigenous locals Kelvin and Dougie), walk 25 kilometres a day searching for the vine and destroying those that are found. During the end of each wet season, ‘Team Astro’ (comprising staff from the WA Department of Agriculture and Food), complete a helicopter search of the entire area looking for flowering vines. It is during these searches that thousands of aerial photos have been taken. These are presented on a computer screen so viewers (members of the public) can easily see if the rubber vine’s distinct large white flower is present.
Once plants are detected, they are destroyed using either hand pulling, cutting the root by small axes, cut-stump with application of Vigilant Herbicide Gel.
In 2016, a total of 1500 vines were found and destroyed, mostly by ground searching and almost entirely from known return sites. The search process by the Astro Mission returned only 15 flowering plants, compared to 60 vines detected 2015. An additional 10 vines were identified, previously missed by human observers during the aerial search. John Szymanski is confident that fewer than 200 vines exist in the system of all plant classes, seedlings, juveniles, adults and breeders.
Investment: The Aquila Project has been funded by State NRM Strategic grants program, Royalties for Regions and Rangelands NRM through the Australian Government’s National Landcare Programme.
Quote: “With assistance from 244 Internet volunteers, we’ve proven that using cutting edge technologies can achieve really precise results in detecting plants in such a vast area,” John Szymanski, Aquila project manager
Articles about the Aquila Project and rubber vine eradication in the Rangelands NRM eNews