CSIRO helped small business Yolngu Business Enterprises (YBE2) develop the capability to control destructive ant infestations for Rio Tinto Alcan.
Yellow crazy ants are problematic in Australia's top end
Indigenous company YBE2 specialises in mine site rehabilitation, environmental management and construction services in north-east Arnhem Land of the Northern Territory.
One of YBE2's contracts is with Rio Tinto Alcan where the team undertakes rehabilitation work at the Gove bauxite mine.
The Gove area is ridden with one of the world's most invasive ant pests – the yellow crazy ant. The introduced species is a significant threat to the local environment because they form supercolonies and threaten other ant species and wildlife.
"You can't mine or effectively rehabilitate the site if these ants are present, because digging the earth risks spreading them," said YBE2 environmental supervisor, Tony Schultz.
"The site needs to be cleared of these colonies, which involves continuous monitoring and treatment. There aren't many companies out there doing this, so we saw the opportunity to develop the specialist skills and offer a unique service," said Mr Schultz.
Monitoring and mapping the pest species
Through CSIRO's SME Engagement Centre, YBE2 was connected to ecologist Dr Ben Hoffmann, who is leading efforts to control pest ant species in northern Australia.
Dr Hoffmann worked with the YBE2 team on the ground to develop protocols to monitor the land, and identify and collect data to accurately map ant infestations using a GPS system. The data would then be used to employ the most suitable treatment.
Developing a new service secures competitive advantage
As part of the project about 200 hectares infested by Yellow crazy ants was mapped and treated by YBE2 staff. Dr Hoffmann also looked at the impact of the ants and eradication treatments on the local environment. This data will help YBE2 to improve their mine site rehabilitation processes.
After the project was completed, Mr Schulz said YBE2 mapped and treated a further 200 hectares. “Having the capacity to monitor and capture data from the land ourselves will potentially open up new opportunities at other sites," he said.
In addition to their mine rehabilitation work, YBE2 is now contracted to control ant pests in new areas at the Gove site on an ongoing basis.
This project was supported by the Australian Government’s Entrepreneurs’ Programme, Innovation Connections service. An initiative that provides funding to support the placement of researchers directly into businesses to help them develop and implement new commercial ideas.