How drones are improving marine science research in Ecuador

Source: Latin American Science

Drones have become an influential part of scientific research, including studies on marine ecosystems. In fact, researchers around the world working in marine environments have identified the enormous potential in the use of drones. This technology has allowed for improved data collection in terms of quality and spatial scale. Additionally, drones – or unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) – have allowed for more accurate data collection that is significantly less invasive to targeted marine life. However, many challenges exist as to the application of these technologies in the field.

Using drones to study whales and sharks

The CETACEA project in Ecuador started using UAVs in 2017 off the northern coast of Ecuador in the Marine Reserve Galera San Francisco and near the Bajos de Atacames, Esmeraldas. These areas are considered important reproduction and breeding areas for humpback whales. Back then, we were capturing aerial footage of humpback whales for scientific and educational purposes in the form of short videos. In the 2018 season, we proposed using drones to generate our project’s first documentary. We flew the UAV from the same fiberglass boat that our other whale research was conducted in.

The Shark UAV Project, which started in November of 2018, carried out exploration flights around multiple islands in the Galapagos Archipelago. The main purpose of these drone flights is to document high concentrations of juvenile sharks to identify nursery areas. We started this research to find an alternative method of defining these areas compared to the more traditional method of gill net setting around San Cristobal Island. We launched the UAV from a small fisherman’s boat, as we did in the CETACEA Ecuador project.