Civil drone helps WWF saving endangered marine turtles

Poaching is one of the critical threats faced by marine turtles. To protect and monitor the three main species of marine turtles that nest in Suriname more efficiently, World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and the company Danoffice IT has started implementing the use of civil conservation drones to monitor and collect evidence of the collection marine turtles´ egg.  If this goes well the programme may be expanded to also include control of illegal fishing activities.  

WWF has been trialling a civil conservation drone, also called an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), on beaches in Suriname in the northeastern part of South America, which hosts important breeding locations for the endangered marine turtles.

”We would like to monitor the exposed and sometimes remote areas more efficiently by using small conservation drones (UAVs). These offer invaluable information such as live film, images, mapping, GPS coordinates and much more. The costs of a civil conservation drone, like Huginn X1,are relatively low and are a significant addition to the range of other traditional solutions we normally rely on” said Michael Hiwat from WWF.
WWF Suriname has in this specific case chosen to focus on poaching of marine turtle’s eggs, and despite laws protecting sea turtles, thousands of eggs are poached each year. In other parts of the world, sea turtles are used for ceremonial purposes ortheir shells and skins are also used to make a variety of objects like jewelry, sunglasses, tourist trinkets, instruments, and wall hangings and so drones may have applications there too.

Revealing pictures

The civil conservation drone, a “Huginn X1”, is a quadro copter from the Danish company Sky-Watch and has an integrated dual, digital & thermal, camera to give the pilot an airborne overview day and night. During the monitoring of turtle activities the thermal camera added value by enabling the operator to identify marine turtle tracks on the sand and point to where the eggs had been laid and covered up. Critically, the UAVs thermographic camera can also be used to identify and track poachers hiding in the dense forest or bushes day or night.

The UAV can fly more than half a mile away from the operator. WWF will typically fly it 100 feet above the ground, but if necessary, it can fly 6 feet over the ground or rise up to 300 feet. The UAV flies autonomously between waypoints set on a digital map for the local area and is very stable indeed. This was confirmed when Danoffice IT trained the local Rangers in Suriname, in using the UAV, where the UAV was able to aapt easily to the very windy conditions.

”The “Huginn X1” UAV did a very good job on documenting the movement of the turtles on the beach. WWF will also be able to use it to monitor illegal fishing near the coasts and ensure evidence in terms of pictures and accurate GPS coordinates of locations, which is not possible today,” said Jacob Petersen, Danoffice IT.

In other parts of the world, drone technology can also be valuable in the fight against poaching for wild elephants or rhinos.  Poaching, often linked with organized crime, has increased exponentially over the past 10 years, as the black market prices for ivory and rhino horn has jumped. These species face the real risk of extinction unless the international community takes stronger action. Drones have already been deployed in countries like Nepal for monitoring rhinos and have shown themselves to be invaluable tools in the fight for these creatures survival.


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