Tuesday, June 18, 2024

Kiwis invited to pest hunt this summer

University of Canterbury researchers and partners are using digital technology to help New Zealanders join the fight against invasive pests.

Find-A-Pest is an innovative app that allows the everyday Kiwi to identify and report invasive species including plants, animals and insects – empowering users to safeguard New Zealand’s environment.

It is unique in Aotearoa New Zealand in that it creates a database of pest information that is used to support biosecurity knowledge and efforts across multiple organisations, including Ministry of Primary Industries (MPI), the Department of Conservation (DOC), regional councils, and primary industry groups.

Te Whare Wānanga o Waitaha | University of Canterbury Associate Professor and app advisor, Steve Pawson says it can be used as an educational tool alongside its critical role in identifying pests across New Zealand.

“The app uses artificial intelligence (AI) to help identify pests and provides the user with information on the pests’ habitats, hosts and distribution. We have a team of experts who confirm identifications and send feedback to users. We also integrate closely with the iNaturalist NZ – Mātaki Taiao nature recording platform, where citizen scientists contribute identification of existing pests, particularly weeds,” says Associate Professor Pawson.

He says Find-A-Pest is a valuable resource for anyone who is interested in protecting our environment.

“By using the app, individuals can help to detect pests early, which supports pest management efforts and minimises damage to the environment.”

MPI have played a significant role in the development of Find-A-Pest and have been involved from its inception, originally launched in 2018. MPI Chief Biosecurity Officer Peter Thompson says it’s pleased to be a part of a collaboration creating “another tool in the biosecurity toolbox”.

“With Find-A-Pest, we aim to encourage more people to join us in protecting our environment, economy and communities from the harmful effects of invasive species.”

The user doesn’t need to be an expert on pests themselves. AI helps identify the species and this is followed up by an expert cross-checking the identification.

After initial feedback from users, updates to the app now provide offline capabilities, immediate identification, a simple reporting process and key information to educate users on the pests in Aotearoa New Zealand.

“We’re incredibly excited about this update,” Associate Professor Pawson says.

“Our team has worked tirelessly to incorporate feedback from our users and deliver an even better experience. We believe these changes will make Find-A-Pest more engaging, intuitive, and useful for everyone.”

Find out more and download the app on the Find a Pest website.  

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