The environmental and conservation sectors, like others, are continually looking for cost-effective and innovative solutions to handle a wide variety of ecological problems that threaten biodiversity in protected areas.
Recently, drones have been called upon to revolutionise conservation and are proving to hold great potential in helping experts make better-informed decisions when dealing with complex projects.
Some of the areas that are currently seeing the benefits of implementing UAS (unmanned aerial solutions) and gaining unprecedented insights are as follows.
Wildlife Research and Management
Crewed aircraft have traditionally been used to complement ground-based wildlife surveys; drones now provide a feasible alternative to assist with modern wildlife conservation. Advances in drone technology and sensor capabilities now offer a less invasive, non-intrusive, repetitive, and reliable monitoring solution to collect data.
Capabilities include species abundance and distribution surveys, wildlife behavior monitoring, as well as providing cutting edge data-driven machine learning and artificial intelligence for detection and monitoring of wildlife species.
Protected areas are reference sites for ecological monitoring. These activities provide essential information to track ecosystem changes that are a result of management and environmental factors.
Traditional methods for ecosystem and habitat monitoring range from manned airborne analysis to satellite-based remote sensing that typically collects images and provides data at sub-meter resolution; however, the geographical availability of these products are limited and not always rapidly available.
The ability to transport and deploy drones into remote and technically challenging environments allow teams to conduct timely aerial surveys with unprecedented detail.
Another significant advantage is the capability of drones to carry multiple payloads at the same time, such as RGB, multispectral, and thermographic, all of which prove advantageous when monitoring essential Biodiversity Variables (EBVs).
Similarly, mapping and quantifying ecosystems with drones constitute an efficient means to inform site design and zoning, especially when the existing information available is scarce, outdated, and based on low-resolution remote sensing images.
Environmental Management and Disaster Response
Effectively managing protected areas requires sustained and continuous monitoring of environmental and biophysical indicators, in many cases, a rapid response is crucial to diminish the effects that both natural and human-made disasters pose to natural environmental resources and human beings. Usually, these conversational activities combine fieldwork, airborne, and satellite sensing.
Drones can now provide a realistic alternative to acquiring rapid image acquisition, monitor erosion, sediment dynamics; forest wind-throw; habitat degradation; landslides; floods, oil spills, and wildfires at different stages.
Drones also act as valuable tools for emergency service personnel in search and rescue missions through to invasive plant monitoring and control.
Costs of Drone Operations
There are many factors which must be considered when evaluating the cost of using drones, some of the applications described above rely on sophisticated onboard technology and sensors, advanced communications systems or hybrid solutions to allow for longer endurance and heavier payloads.
The large volume of data collected must also be conveniently stored and processed, which often requires qualified expertise and adequate IT infrastructures.
Air Data Systems can provide support, training, and the necessary technical understanding to support operations of all sizes and complexities.
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