April 3, 2015

Conservation Drones to Aid Research

This week the magazine Model Aviation published an article I wrote on the use of drones for conservation.  One of the most important advantages to using drones for conservation is the ability to scout areas for certain species without having to send people there.  Trekking up mountains and through thick forests is labor intensive and takes a lot of time and resources.  A lot of money can be saved if you send in a drone with a GoPro camera to check the area ahead of time.

The idea of using drones for conservation research has a lot of potential.  Lian Pin Koh, the co-founder of ConservationDrones.org, gave a TED talk back in 2013 where he described what may come for future conservation drone endeavors.  I have done a lot of bird tracking using hand held antennae and a receiver to locate birds with transmitters.  To do a good job monitoring a population you need to trap a lot of birds, attach the transmitters, take them back to the capture location, release them, and then use a crew of undergraduates who will drive around and hike through thick vegetation at all hours of the day to monitor the movements of all the birds with transmitters.  For me, using drones to capture data from transceiver that have been placed at multiple locations to track data on the movement of species in an area would be a lot cheaper, and it might do a better job of gathering data - transceivers don't have to sleep.

Due to FAA regulations this is not going to be an option for researchers in the US.  Will more regulations arise in other countries to prohibit this type of work?  Hopefully people can act responsibly, and this research can continue.  Conservation research already stretches every dollar to the max.


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