Small Drones: An affordable alternative for marine surveys

Scientists at Murdoch University’s Centre for Sustainable Aquatic Ecosystems recently published a study that looks at using small drones to survey marine megafauna.

Small drones, or more technically, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs)are widely available, relatively affordable and easy to operate, which makes them a great option for researchers seeking to conduct intensive, repeatable wildlife surveys. 

To address aviation regulations applied to the use of small drones, and the limitations of their range and battery-charge, the study suggests flying drones in a grid-based system. As the drone completes its flight, it records still aerial images that are then manually reviewed to identify marine megafauna sightings.

In the study, Dr. Christophe Cleguer, Dr. Amanda Hodgson and their team share their findings from researching dugong fine-scale distribution and abundance in Pilbara, Western Australia, by launching drones from a boat over three field seasons across two years. Overall, the team conducted up to 17 flights per day covering up to 11.36 km2, for a total of 240 flights and recorded 149 dugong sightings within the 50,482 images collected. 

“Our method, which proved convincing in a real-world application by its feasibility, ease of implementation, and achievable surface coverage has the potential to be used in a wide range of applications from community-based local-scale surveys, to long-term repeated/intensive surveys, and impact assessments and environmental monitoring studies.

Dr. Cleguer and Dr. Hodgson are currently partners of the Seagrass Ecosystem Service Project and are working with local NGOs to adapt and deploy their research methods in five southeast Asian countries.

Read the full article here:

Cleguer C, et. al (2021) A Novel Method for Using Small Unoccupied Aerial Vehicles to Survey Wildlife Species and Model Their Density Distribution. Front. Mar. Sci. 8:640338.