DroneDeploy has always been a thought-leader for conservation efforts. Originally founded to combat poaching in South Africa, we’ve since donated our services to multiple organizations through our philanthropic arm, DroneDeploy.org. After joining the Pledge 1% program this past year, we’ve doubled down on this effort, specifically in Australia, one of the largest drone markets in the world – and the site of our next office location. Already active in the Bush Fire relief effort, DroneDeploy is now being used to monitor the Great Barrier Reef.
The Great Barrier Reef is a UNESCO heritage site, one of the 7 natural wonders of the world, and Earth’s largest living organism. Home to 9,000 different species, the reef has been increasingly affected by climate change, with half of the reef’s coral already dead. Because of this, scientists and conservationists have been working especially hard to prevent further damage and regrow coral.
To do this, the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority will be using DroneDeploy’s services to map the reef and further their conservation efforts. With a complete, data-rich map of the reef, scientists can determine at-risk or damaged areas and quickly deploy a team to the site. Because the reef’s health is at stake, the added benefit of drone software is that it allows the user to work purposefully with minimal physical human interaction, preventing the reef from further damage.
Challenges in Conservation
For non-profit organizations, conservation can be an uphill battle. Conventionally, scientists have gone by boat to the reef and conducted in-water samples to test for coral bleaching or growth, matching these samples to NASA satellite imagery. Not only is this process time consuming, but it’s also expensive, requiring a team of divers to perform these tasks. From there, testing begins on land, sometimes taking weeks to complete. The only alternative to this method is helicopter imagery, which is even more costly and susceptible to weather interference. In an industry where time is of the essence, this model is not sustainable. By the time testing finishes, it may be too late to reverse any damage.
How Drones Can Help
Drone technology, however, enables researchers to monitor the entire reef at a fraction of the cost. And inspections that previously took months to complete are now reduced to weeks. Plus, drone imagery is higher-resolution because of its proximity to the surface of the water. This allows scientists to differentiate between coral, sand, and algae, and determine the next best steps. By combining drone imagery with data provided by the Australian Institute of Marine Science, conservationists can detect pertinent threats to the reef’s ecosystem, such as algae blooms, ocean acidification, or illegal man-made hazards including industrial activity like run-off and litter.