Can drones be used to save sharks and other marine life?

Save Our Seas Uses Drones for Marine Resarch

Michael SchollSonja BetschartMichael Scholl, CEO of the Save Our Seas Foundation and Sonja Betschart Co-Founder of WeRobotics explores this question.  Save Our Seas is a Geneva based foundation dedicated to protecting life in our oceans, especially sharks and rays. The organization supports researchers, conservationists and educators across the globe.  They have centers in Florida, Seychelles and South Africa, dedicated to learning about sharks and rays and sharing that knowledge. Michael has more 20 years of experience researching and studying sharks.  His efforts have been featured in television documentaries by the BBC, National Geographic, and Discovery Channel and in publications including Science, Nature, BBC Wildlife Magazine, and Africa Geographic.  WeRobotics promotes the positive impact of drones across multiple social sectors, particularly in developing and at-risk countries. Prior to joining WeRobotics, Sonja was on the Board of Directors of Drone Adventures, a non-profit organization in Switzerland dedicated to showing the great potential of drones to protect our planet and support local communities.  In 2015, Drone Adventures and Save Our Seas teamed up on a project to map a shark ecosystem in the Seychelles using a drone. In this episode of the Drone Radio Show, Michael and Sonja share their experience of that mapping project, offer some lessons learned and give us some insights into sharks, their ecosystem and the future of drones in marine research.

In This Episode

  • Introduction. Michael Scholl is the CEO of Save Our Seas Foundation. For more than a decade, the foundation has been dedicated to protecting ocean life, especially sharks and rays.  Michael talks about the origin of the Foundation and its mission to save our seas.
  • Use of Drones. Michael discusses some of the ways in which drones have been used by Save Our Seas in studying sharks.
  • Seychelles Mapping Project.  Michael and Sonja Betschart (WeRobotics) discuss a joint effort to map the shark ecosystem of a Seychelles atoll using a drone. The surface water (reflection) and sandy beaches (little detail) posed challenges to aerial mapping systems. At the time, Sonja was on the Board of Directors for Drone Adventures, which did the flying and mapping of the atoll. Using Pix4D software, the team was successful in completing the project.
  • Lessons Learned. Sonja talks about some of the big lessons learned through the Seychelles mapping project, it always helps to have a good measure of luck in regard to the natural weather patterns, which can drastically affect aerial flying and mapping.  In the case of the Seychelles project, the team was fortunate of having four days of near perfect weather. Secondly, the best times to conduct the flights are early morning and late afternoon, when there the light is good and surface reflection is relatively low. Another finding was that the drones, due to their high resolution cameras, provided an invaluable tool in helping researchers count and measure the shark populations. On the other hand, researchers had hoped to be able to use the thermal imaging sensors to detect buried turtle eggs, but the test did not prove useful.
  • Shark Research and Drones. Michael talks about some of the general research being conducted on sharks with drones. Drones can be used to monitor shark populations, identify injuries or abnormalities, observe behaviors without disturbances, All possible using a technology that was not available to researchers just a few years ago.
  • Research Grants. Michael discusses the research grants young scientists and researchers in the marine field.
  • Sharks in Our Ecosystem. Sharks have been around for more than 400 million years and have their natural evolution has been threatened by about 50 years of human interdiction. The greatest threat to sharks is fishing. Sharks, compared to other fish, have a very slow reproductive cycle, only producing 2-3 pups in a year. Sharks are resilient and as predators, they have an important role in managing a healthy ecosystem. There are some research that indicates that sharks DNA may offer some solutions to fighting cancer.
  • Future Projects. Michael talks about potential projects on the horizon to use drones to monitor for sharks. Sonja discusses We Robotics program to increase local capacity for drone use, so that local populations can continue the research and mapping on their own. This is particularly useful in the Seychelles, where the real value is documenting changes in the shark ecosystem over time.
  • Closing. Michael hopes the drones will continue to grow and take on more population and behavior studies. He also hopes to use multi-spectral imaging cameras in the research, incorporate drones into education and use the technology to help promote and educate the world on marine research.

Mentioned Links

Seychelles Atoll for Drone Mapping

Seychelles Atoll for Drone Mapping

Drone Adventures Team Evaluates Aerial Data

Drone Adventures Team Evaluates Aerial Data

One of the mapping drones

One of the mapping drones

Michael Scholl CEO of "Save our Seas"

Michael Scholl CEO of “Save our Seas”