Drones have helped scientists find mega colonies of penguins – over 750,000 pairs – in protected areas in the Antarctic Peninsula.
The journal Nature reports that a “multi-modal survey” including ground counts and computer automated counts of drone imagery, showed huge populations of Adélie penguins in the Danger Islands off of the norther tip of the Antarctic Peninsula. The survey served to demonstrate the results of using satellite and drone imagery for environmental surveys.
“Despite concerted international effort to track and interpret shifts in the abundance and distribution of Adélie penguins, large populations continue to be identified,” says the article. “Here we report on a major hotspot of Adélie penguin abundance identified in the Danger Islands off the northern tip of the Antarctic Peninsula (AP). We present the first complete census of Pygoscelis spp. penguins in the Danger Islands, estimated from a multi-modal survey consisting of direct ground counts and computer-automated counts of unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) imagery.”
“Our survey reveals that the Danger Islands host 751,527 pairs of Adélie penguins, more than the rest of AP region combined, and include the third and fourth largest Adélie penguin colonies in the world. Our results validate the use of Landsat medium-resolution satellite imagery for the detection of new or unknown penguin colonies and highlight the utility of combining satellite imagery with ground and UAV surveys.”
Scientists say that the Danger Islands “appear to have avoided recent declines” which have been documented on the Western Antarctic Pensinsula and “deserve special consideration in the negotiation and design of Marine Protected Areas in the region.”