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ESR Special: Drones in conservation research

© Duke Marine Robotics and Remote Sensing Lab, NOAA Permit No. 14809-03


Drones in conservation research


Advances in conservation research often closely follow the development of novel technologies. For example, the miniaturisation of biologging devices, incorporating GPS positioning and environmental sensors, has revolutionised the quantity, quality and types of data available regarding animals of ever decreasing body size (see ESR Special from 2010: Biologging Technologies: New Tools for Conservation). The use of small, relatively low-cost unmanned aerial systems (UASs) or 'drones' is rapidly being incorporated into the toolbox of the field researcher. Advances in flight times, improved on-board sensors, control systems and data analysis algorithms mean that drones can be used to gather data more quickly, simply and cheaply than previously possible. Although not without its challenges, use of these devices can also support management interventions such as surveillance and law enforcement. This ESR Special aims to highlight the rapidly evolving leading edge of UAS technology in conservation research. Building on pioneering work, we seek to include 'horizon scanning' articles that will inform the utilisation of this technique as we move forward and take to the skies above the land, freshwater and oceans. Articles in this Special will also help tackle the challenge of processing and maximising the utility of any aerially gathered datasets.


Articles belonging to this Special were published upon completion in the respective volume of ESR. They are listed below as well as on the contents page of the respective volume of publication.


Date of completion: January 2020


Organizer: Brendan Godley

Editors: Ana Cañadas, Jaume Forcada, Brendan Godley, Helene Marsh, Alan F. Rees, Rory Wilson

Rees AF, Avens L, Ballorain K, Bevan E, Broderick AC, Carthy RR, Christianen MJA, Duclos G, Heithaus MR, Johnston DW, Mangel JC, Paladino F, Pendoley K, Reina RD, Robinson NJ, Ryan R, Sykora-Bodie ST, Tilley D, Varela MR, Whitman ER, Whittock PA, Wibbels T, Godley BJ

REVIEW: The potential of unmanned aerial systems for sea turtle research and conservation: a review and future directions

ESR 35:81-100 | Full text in pdf format


Fearnbach H, Durban JW, Ellifrit DK, Balcomb KC

NOTE: Using aerial photogrammetry to detect changes in body condition of endangered southern resident killer whales

ESR 35:175-180 | Full text in pdf format


Ortega-Ortiz CD, Gómez-Muñoz VM, Gendron D

Allometry and morphometry of blue whales photographed in the Gulf of California: insights into subspecies taxonomy in the Eastern North Pacific

ESR 37:183-194 | Full text in pdf format


Dujon AM, Schofield G

Importance of machine learning for enhancing ecological studies using information-rich imagery

ESR 39:91-104 | Full text in pdf format


Groskreutz MJ, Durban JW, Fearnbach H, Barrett-Lennard LG, Towers JR, Ford JKB

NOTE: Decadal changes in adult size of salmon-eating killer whales in the eastern North Pacific

ESR 40:183-188 | Full text in pdf format


Landeo-Yauri SS, Ramos EA, Castelblanco-Martínez DN, Torres CAN, Searle L

Using small drones to photo-identify Antillean manatees: a novel method for monitoring an endangered marine mammal in the Caribbean Sea

ESR 41:79-90 | Full text in pdf format