Developments in unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) technology are providing new, potentially cost-effective opportunities for ecologists and conservationists to monitor and protect ecosystems, particularly in remote areas. Widely known for their (often debated) use in remote warfare, there is increasing consensus that drones – as UAVs are often known – have the potential to be used for more positive goals, giving new high-tech means of understanding and potentially protecting global environments.
Lian Pin Koh outlined the potential of drones for conservation in a 2013 TED talk, arguing that they provide an affordable means of mapping biodiversity at higher resolution than current satellite remote sensing technologies; and that they are useful for monitoring protected areas for threats such as poaching and deforestation. Three journal articles – by Koh and Serge Wich in 2012, Karen Anderson and Kevin J Gaston in 2013 and Richard Schiffman in 2014 – suggest similar potential.
In 2012, Koh and Wich founded an organisation called Conservation Drones to help bring together available information on the use of drones for remote sensing. As this UNEP article describes, whilst the technology is still developing, there is a huge amount of ongoing public and private investment in UAVs, which is likely to address current limitations such as limited flight time, and to continue to bring production costs down.
As yet, there has been little research on the potential of drone technology for monitoring freshwater ecosystems. However, a new journal article “The potential of remote sensing in ecological status assessment of coloured lakes using aquatic plants“ by MARS scientist Sebastian Birk and Frauke Ecke addresses this shortfall. Their paper explores the potential of drones for monitoring the health of remote Swedish lakes which are heavily coloured by dissolved carbon. Birk and Ecke found that it is possible to assess the ecological health of coloured lake ecosystems by monitoring plant vegetation which is detectable by drones. Their findings have the potential to significantly alter how ecological monitoring in lakes is carried out, particularly in remote and inaccessible areas.
Alan is serial entrepreneur, active angel investor, and a drone enthusiast. He co-founded DRONELIFE.com to address the emerging commercial market for drones and drone technology. Prior to DRONELIFE.com, Alan co-founded Where.com, ThinkingScreen Media, and Nurse.com. Recently, Alan has co-founded Crowditz.com, a leader in Equity Crowdfunding Data, Analytics, and Insights. Alan can be reached at alan(at)dronelife.com