The threat of Asian geckos hitchhiking on ships bound for the $43 billion Gorgon gas project on Barrow Island has prompted scientists to develop an early warning system that sends a text if the reptiles are detected.
The 11cm-long Asian house gecko could present a significant threat to the native fauna of the island, which is a class A nature reserve about 60km off WA’s north-west coast.
Chevron, which operates the gas project, approached researchers at Edith Cowan University to develop a system that could detect the presence of the geckos, which are recognised more by their distinctive call than their appearance.
The gas giant was fearful the species could hitch a lift from their native south-east Asia on overseas deliveries bound for the WA coast and then present a significant biosecurity threat.
The university’s engineering school came up with an ingenious acoustic sensor, around the size of a smartphone, which can track the species and act as an early warning system.
Professor Adam Osseiran and his team of researchers developed the high-tech wireless network known as the Continuous Roving Observation Wireless Network - or CROWN.
The network, made up of about 200 acoustic sensors, listens around the clock for the distinctive call of the geckos.
If they are detected, a text message will be sent to a dedicated quarantine inspector employed by Chevron, who can track down the offending reptiles and remove them.
“The device we developed is small, can be solar-powered and easy to install,” Professor Osseiran said.
“Around 200 devices will be placed on the island to provide the best possible protection.”
Professor Osseiran has also developed similar acoustic sensors for other pests, including termites.
The Gorgon project is one of the world’s largest natural gas projects and the largest single-resource project in Australia’s history.