Saving Birds With 3D Printed Boats

Montana, rightfully nicknamed the big sky country, is a beautiful state with abundant wide open landscapes, mountains, and wildlife. It’s a fantastic place to visit or live, but if you happen to reside in the city of Butte, that amazing Montana landscape is marred by the remnants of an enormous open pit mine. Not only is it an eyesore, but the water that has filled the pit is deadly to any bird that lands there. As a result, a group of people have taken to some ingenious methods to deter birds from landing in the man-made toxic lake for too long.

When they first started, the only tool they had available was a rifle. Scaring birds this way is not the most effective way for all species, though, so lately they have been turning to other tools. One of which is a custom boat built on a foam bodyboard which uses a plethora of 3D printed parts and sensors to allow the operator to remotely pilot the boat on the toxic lake. The team also has a drone to scare birds away, plus an array of other tools like high-powered lasers, propane cannons, and various scopes in order to put together the most effective response to help save wildlife.

While this strategy runs the gamut of the tools most commonly featured here, from 3D printers to drones to lasers, the only thing that’s missing is some automation like we have seen with other drone boat builds we’ve featured in the past. It takes quite a bit of time to continually scare birds off this lake, even through the winter, so every bit of help the team can get could go even further.

Thanks to [floz] for the tip!

22 thoughts on “Saving Birds With 3D Printed Boats

    1. Yes. But ground water would fill it up again. Using it to dump stuff would be one way to go, but I bet this place is a bit far from everything. Hence this never ending interim solution.

      Maybe the best we can hope for is that mining there would be economically viable again, so that the problem could be mitigated as part of the new activity.

    2. Cleanup can only be done with great difficulty at great cost (that nobody wants to pay). The problem is basically that the groundwater is absorbing (and then reacting with) minerals in the bedrock, causing it to contain large amounts of the metals they used to mine there (copper, arsenic, zink, etc) and also causing it to acidify. The lower PH then increases the reaction rate and solvency of the metals and acids into the water, lowering the PH even further. The local geology means it’s likely to keep acidifying or at least remain this acidic for a long time to come. Things could stabilize with treatment, but as far as I can tell, nobody is sure just exactly how to handle the lake. Lots of other contamination in the area (mine tailings, contaminated creeks, etc) have been cleaned up, but the Berkeley pit remains a big question mark from what I can find.
      Making it a landfill isn’t really an option as it’s below ground water levels. A landfill would probably just add more levels of worry to the contamination of water in the area.

    3. Use floating solar tops on the water which works on 2 ways, one stop birds from drinking water and second generate energy for all the equipment, lights and heating.

    1. I don’t know if it’s been tried, but right off the bat I can think of two possible problems. One is what happens to a poor bird that lands on it anyway, and how long the balls will survive in what must be a pretty nasty mixture…

      1. This is from one article about it:
        “The idea for L.A.’s shade balls came when a now-retired LADWP biologist learned about the application of “bird balls” in ponds along airfield runways. Airports have detention basins to collect stormwater runoff. As the ponds fill up, they attract birds. So airports float the balls on the ponds to keep the birds off.”
        Balls had some issues, and LA eventually replaced the balls with floating covers, but they seemed to be effective bird deterrent.

  1. “When they first started, the only tool they had available was a rifle.”

    Saving birds by shooting at them with a rifle to scare them away is one of the most American solutions I’ve ever read

    1. Or, as Terry Pratchett wrote in one book: swamp dragons had a tendency to explode when frightened. This was a defense trait. How did exploding defend a dragon you may ask? All preadtors learned very soon, that you don’t eat a dragon, unless you want to have indigestion which can be described with a blast radius.

  2. I wonder if a bunch of 6ft submarines, that are only barely subsurface, dressed up as muskelunge or northern pike would do the trick. Large specimens are known to eat ducks, but do the ducks and other fowl know it?

    1. The video says they need different solutions for different bird species, I’m sure there are some bird species that are aware of and fearful of sub-aquatic predators. My concern would be the safety of the people handling the submarine. They’d need to remove it from the water and if the water is so acidic it can eat through a bird it can also eat through a hand.

  3. I don’t see any contradiction between being a bird hunter and a bird conservationist. Who has more of a *personal*, self-benefiting reason to want big, healthy bird populations than someone who hunts them? In general, ethical hunters are firm conservationists.

  4. BTW, there are actual microbes living in the pit water. Lots of research being done in that area I understand.

    At night you can faintly hear the ‘booms’ of the cannons as they try to scare the birds away.

    Yep, I live and work here in Butte. The mine has been a big employer here for many years. Still is, as they mine to the East (the East Pit). My grandfather came here in the 1920s and was a miner, my dad worked at the local utility (Montana Power Company), and I now work with the remaining Utility (Northwestern Energy) after deregulation so my roots are here.

      1. Though if you can drill a borehole down the middle of it so it’s super high pressure and warm at the bottom, maybe we can use those micro-critters for terraforming Venus.

  5. This is a great idea. Mining companies should be 100% funding these efforts for as long as their leftovers continue to be a hazard. Maybe they could sponsor a hackathon to generate more solutions. High-speed floating Roomba’s?

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