World Oceans Day: Developing Drone Technology to Protect Marine Wildlife

It’s World Oceans Day – and DRONELIFE is noting the day by reporting on researchers at Loughborough University’s Wolfson School of Mechanical, Electrical and Manufacturing Engineering who are pushing the boundaries of drone technology to protect marine wildlife.

“Sometimes when I’m out at sea and I see the devastation caused by humans, I have to stop myself from just sitting down and crying,” says commercial drone pilot and PhD student Melissa Schiele. “But it’s what drives me to do what I do and to develop technology that can lead to real changes in conservation.”

Co-affiliated with the Zoological Society of London (ZSL), Schiele is working on drone technology that will help “combat illegal fishing, lead to better understanding of megafauna movement and detect ghost nets – the ocean’s ‘silent killers’,” reports VOLUME, Loughborough University’s online journal.  (Check out Schiele’s fascinating blog, The Intrepid Ecologist – part academic, part travel blog: with gorgeous photography – and drones.)

Schiele and her colleagues, including ZSL Marine Biologist and conservationist Dr. Tom Letessier, have spent the last two years with ZSL traveling the world surveying wildlife.  The team developed a lightweight and inexpensive fixed wing, supported by the Bertarelli Programme in Marine Science and Canadian drone company, Aeromao.  The current drone is excellent at detecting marine megafauna like turtles, sharks and rays.

World Oceans Day

Aerial images of Rays, as photographed by Schiele.

It’s a waterproof, water-landing fixed wing drone, with a 10 km range, live stream capabilities, and the ability to detect small fishing vessels from altitudes of 75-110 meters (about 260 – 360 feet.)

Now, as a PhD candidate a Loughborough, Schiele is hoping to improve the drone to extend the range and enable it to read the registration numbers on illegal fishing vessels from higher altitudes.  Schiele also hopes to develop a low-cost system that can be used by marine-protected area managers, local rangers or fisheries enforcement teams to monitor their waters.

Read more articles about drones in marine protection on DRONELIFE  here  and here– and check out more stories on World Oceans Day, organized for the preservation of Earth’s oceans.

Miriam McNabb is the Editor-in-Chief of DRONELIFE and CEO of JobForDrones, a professional drone services marketplace, and a fascinated observer of the emerging drone industry and the regulatory environment for drones.

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