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As part of megafauna research (which includes large animal species), scientists at Murdoch University launched small multirotor drones (made up of several propellers) from a boat off Pilbara, Western Australia . A breathtaking feat to observe one of the only two species of the order Sirenia: dugongs. A particular method that is not based on the horizontal trajectory of classic drones.
“Instead of using a horizontal flight path consisting of long parallel lines up and down over the entire survey area, we tested a grid-based system where one or more grid cells could be surveyed. at the same time ”, explains Christophe Cleguer, researcher at the University of Murdoch.
This innovation makes it possible to overcome certain constraints linked to the use of small drones, such as low autonomy or strict air regulations. With this method, researchers find out the density of dugongs in specific areas. In 2018, 103 dugongs were found, compared to 47 in June 2019.
A system that can adapt
As the operation is inexpensive, it is possible to re-study a dugong dwelling area several times. The very precise grid system makes it possible to carry out numerous flights and to facilitate the investigation of Australian researchers.
During the study, 240 flights were performed, including 17 flights covering 11.36 square kilometers per day. The grid system observed more than 149 dugongs, among 50,482 images manually examined by the researchers.
Amanda Hodgson, a research fellow at Murdoch University, believes the method can be used to study other remote locations and their wildlife: “The method we have developed offers solutions for real-world applications in because of its feasibility, ease of implementation and achievable surface coverage. It can be used to track any marine megafauna visible on the surface. Or even to observe terrestrial animals in a whole series of environments ”.
This system can become a real achievement for the future of environmental monitoring around the world.
The study was published in Frontiers in Marine Science.