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NOAA uses UAS to conduct Monk Seal surveys

US: NOAA scientists and US Fish and Wildlife Service recently used an Unmanned Aerial System to study wildlife in the first of two scheduled deployments over the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands from 16-23 June. Researchers using an RQ-20A AeroVironment Puma system completed seven flights to survey monk seals, sea turtles, sea birds, and vegetation and to look for marine debris in Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument.

Unmanned Aircraft Systems was used to survey monk seals and other wildlife and vegetation on the NWHI, and to map the location of marine debris.

The UAS was equipped with real-time video and still photo capability and was capable of flying for up to two hours on a charge and cover a range of about 50 square miles. The UAV was controlled by NOAA’s Office of Marine and Aviation Operations pilots.

The UAS deployment was a pilot project in which NOAA partnered with US Fish and Wildlife Service and the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument to evaluate the effectiveness of the UAS for NWHI surveys and to develop standardised methods for data collection using the systems.

“This is a great example of how investing in our ability to deploy state-of-the-art technology to conduct observations in remote locations can provide critical data to help NOAA in our conservation and resilience missions,” said Todd Jacobs, project scientist for NOAA Research’s Unmanned Aircraft Systems Program and lead for the Hawaii missions.

“This operation validated our hopes that we can use the aircraft in the monument for a variety of missions without harming the environment to get data that we wouldn’t otherwise get.”

Source: NOAA