Ocean Conservation Efforts May Look to Drones for Help


Ocean conservation could be another sector in which unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) may be used to improve current practices.

Although aerial surveillance has traditionally been crucial in monitoring the oceans, the high cost and low frequency of employing private or military aircraft has limited the effectiveness of the method, according to Shah Selbe, an ocean conservation technologist at National Geographic.

Selbe says that UAVs can eliminate the shortcomings of manned aircraft, with flight endurance being the only practical limitation of the technology. Drones, he contends, can provide video evidence of illegal fishing in marine reserves that can be used to prosecute offenders. In addition, they can improve the efficacy of enforcement vessel patrols.

A drone-based approach to ocean conservation has already been validated, Selbe reports. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has a program for UAV capability demonstrations that includes marine monitoring, and Australia-based UAV manufacturer Aerosonde has showcased the effectiveness of UAVs to track illegal fishing to Palau, an island country located in the Pacific Ocean.

In 2011, Selbe adds, anti-whaling organization Sea Shepherd employed UAVs in its fight against the Japanese whaling industry.

He notes that SoarOcean, a project funded by National Geographic and Lindblad Expeditions, aims to demonstrate that low-cost drones can achieve similar results to the noted examples. Selbe says that over the next few months, SoarOcean will conduct tests over the Pacific Ocean to document how to best use UAVs to protect marine reserves.

Read the full National Geographic article here.

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