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Drones for environmental conservation: five key applications

Among the numerous ways drones are revolutionising our world, there is one particularly positive use for this technology. Plenty of people are now using drones for environmental conservation.

Drones are the new cutting-edge tool in environmental management. To demonstrate, here are five ways they are making a difference.

Five uses of drones for environmental conservation

1. Aerial surveillance

Aerial surveillance is the most common way drones help conservationists. After all, drones can fly and take photos of views that a person ordinarily can’t. The video above shows how aerial surveillance is being used by the Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Programme for monitoring endangered species – in this case, Orangutans. The primate biologist Serge Wich featured in the video explains that drone conservation has the potential to be a real game changer because it’s so cost-effective. The fact that aerial surveillance is cheap is a major advantage with environmental research.

The population of Orangutans has plummeted in Indonesia and since they are tree-dwelling, they can be very difficult to count and find. Since drones are able to get above tree level, they make it easier than ever before to find the Orangutans and monitor their population.

So, without the use of drones, this type of monitoring would not be possible in such a time and cost-effective way, therefore ensuring that our endangered species are carefully kept an eye on so we can protect them.

2. Pest control

Drones are also proving very useful to farmers. The video above shows one being used to spray pesticides on fruit trees in North West China. Normally, farmers cannot reach high enough to place the pesticides on the trees themselves. So as you can imagine, drones come in very handy for this purpose.

In the video, vehicle manufacturer Chen Donghua explains that drones have been used in farming for plenty of other reasons too. He explains that the drone is accurate and flexible in spraying pesticides and because of this, it saves labour and also uses less pesticide.

Australian farmers are also using drones for pest control. Drones with infrared cameras attached are being used to manage feral pests such as pigs, wild dogs and rabbits which are reported to be costing agricultural productivity 1 billion Australian dollars each year. Since Australia is so vast it would be virtually impossible to manage these feral pests effectively with manpower alone.

The managing director of the Australian company Ninox Robotics, which is introducing this technology, explains that the infrared cameras allow the heat signature of invasive pests to stand out enormously from the ground, so the drone is able to pass information to the ground control station in real time.

Using a mobile computer, farmers can see what the drone is looking at in real time. This is incredibly useful for the farmers as they can track the pests movements, secure their location and then prevent them from harming their crops or livestock. So in this case, UAV conservation seems to be the solution to Australia’s $1 billion pest problem.

3. Anti-poaching

Poaching is a worldwide problem, but it’s especially prevalent in central Africa where elephants are being killed for their ivory tusks at an alarming rate. Drones are being used by the Ol Pejeta Conservancy Reservation which has been using small drones in order to protect animals from poaching. Silent drones are sent equipped with night vision to track down poachers. Then algorithms are used to predict when and where the poaching will take place and rangers can then pre-deployed to intercept poachers before the animal is killed.

The video above gives a drones-eye-view of an anti-poaching operation in Tanzania. As you can see the UAV is incurably useful when tracking the movement of the poachers over a large area of land. By doing this, conservation organisations can not only intercept the poachers before the animals are killed, but they can use it to identify the main poaching offenders and deal with them accordingly.

4. Marine litter management

Plastic litter in the sea has long been one of the marine world’s biggest threats with the Pacific patch of litter growing by the day. The video shown above is a drone concept which could offer one answer to this environmental problem.

This marine drone can syphon through plastic garbage, swallowing bits of plastic rubbish in through its large opening. It then uses sonic waves which will be annoying to wildlife in order to keep animals out, meaning it just swallows the rubbish that it was designed for.

The system would be able to stay underwater for up to two weeks, and would be able to swallow anything from a tiny shard of plastic to a whole plastic bottle. Once it is full, or its battery drains, it can return to the shore where it can be emptied of its plastic manually. Not only is this very beneficial for the ocean and its wildlife, it will also yield profits for companies who are looking to reduce petroleum use by recycling plastics. On the face of it, it seems that this could be a very useful solution to plastic pollution in our seas.

5. Chasing away invasive species

Aerial drones are quickly becoming the latest tool to be used in the battle against invasive species. Given they’re the second largest threat to biodiversity after habitat loss, this is a welcome development.

The traditional methods for monitoring and controlling invasive species involved field technicians making their way to difficult places to assess the situation. However, an easier alternative could now have been found in Richmond, BC, Canada.

Ecologist Catherine Tarasoff dispatched a drone to detect invaders in a local wildlife area. She said: “With a drone we’re looking at pixel sizes that are teeny tiny. The resolution is amazing. You can literally zoom in and see all the petals on that flower. I have got past the steep learning curve and see the unlimited possibilities.”

A professor at Thompson Rivers University, Tarasoff first began using a UAV in June 2015 at the Creston Valley Wildlife Management Area, an internationally protected wetland in south-central British Columbia.The experiment proved to be a huge success, leading to the professor showcasing her results in front of more than 150 specialists.

Tarasoff, who also manages her own consulting firm, ran the drone pilot project after she was approached by Creston Valley Wildlife’s area manager. They wanted to use the UAV to monitor invasive species. Tarasoff sent two of her students a drone for two days to map a vast region being consumed by the yellow flag, iris, a plant considered one of the province’s worst invasives.

She said the camera-mounted drone soared about 50 metres above to snap thousands of photos, which were stitched together into a massive final image.When viewed on a computer, she could move her mouse cursor over any spot to find out its GPS location. The data was handed over to experts tasked with weeding out the invader.

Drones could save money over the long-term and provide an alternative to dangerous, labour-intensive foraging. Her next target is to train a drone that can determine on its own which species must be photographed.

Elsewhere in Canada, the beaches in Ottowa have a protector from geese faeces in the form of a bright flashing light drone that sounds like a wolf. That’s right, geese have poisonous faeces and high concentrations of this on beaches and in shallow water can lead to outbreaks of infection in human populations, particularly children.

Approached by his local councillor, drone pilot Sam Wambolt modified his UAV to purposely scare geese away and it worked a treat.

Insure4Drones covers a variety of commercial drones uses, including environmental management, photography and more. Visit our homepage for more details.

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