Conservation drones for seabird monitoring

Remote island seabird monitoring

Crested Tern colony on a remote island in north-western Australia photographed by a UAV.

A research team led by Jarrod Hodgson and Rohan Clarke from Monash University is partnering with ConservationDrones to use UAVs for seabird monitoring. Jarrod and Rohan have just returned from a successful trip to remote islands in north-western Australia. They brought along a 3DRobotics X8 multirotor UAV which they used to capture very high resolution images of nesting seabirds on these islands.


3DR X8 multirotor UAV used for seabird monitoring

After some preliminary testing, Jarrod and Rohan discovered that they could fly at an altitude of 75 m above ground level, without causing disturbance to the birds. They also found that flying at lower altitudes would work for large nesting species. But smaller non-nesting species were easily flushed from perching sites by the UAV flying at 40 m a.g.l.

The team from Monash University made a total of 9 successful flights with the UAV. They were targeting colonies of Crested Tern and Lesser Frigatebird. The Crested Tern colonies represent a medium-sized species that nests in dense colonies on the ground (see picture), whereas Lesser Frigatebirds are a large seabird which nests in smaller groups typically on elevated nest stacks and within vegetation.

For every successful survey, the team dispatched experienced seabird counters to make 1 – 2 blind counts of the surveyed population. They will be comparing these ‘ground counts’ with UAV aerial counts to assess the reliability of UAV data.

This is a fantastic demonstration of yet another application for conservation drones. The ConservationDrones team is excited to continue our collaboration with Jarrod and Rohan in several upcoming projects. Check out their new project site:!