Water-landing drones fly BVLOS missions over marine reserve against illegal fishing and pro-biodiversity

Robotic Magazine

Two units of amphibian Aeromapper Talons were utilized successfully during a set of trials during an expedition to beautiful Turneffe Atoll in Belize, in a work lead by the Zoological Society of London and the Turneffe Atoll Sustainability Association. The drones, built by Canadian company Aeromao, were used to detect and document illegal fishing activities and ecology research toward conservation efforts. The Turneffe marine protected area (MPA) in Belize, was delineated in 2012, but is difficult to manage, in part due to illegal fishing, its remoteness, and high running costs.

Image Credit: Aeromao Inc. – www.aeromao.com

The water-landing and waterproof fixed-wing,
long range, multi camera drones were trialled to monitor and survey marine
megafauna (such as turtles, dolphins and sharks) but also as an exercise to
gather evidence of illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing (IUU).

The amphibious drone was able to fly to the site of interest at 110m altitude, gather intelligence and fly back very quickly. The images highlighted that indeed illegal building work had been occurring. Without the UAV the conservation officers would have no way of knowing this and they were very excited at this revelation”, states one of the conservation officers.

Image Credit: Aeromao Inc. – www.aeromao.com

The current enforcement strategy on the Turneffe atoll involves
patrols in small boats, around the atoll, to find illegal fishers. Systematic
surveys for megafauna aren’t regularly carried out, so the conservation
officers tend to document animals they happen across on their patrol. However,
boat fuel is very costly, and this limits the amount of area the conservation
officers can patrol. The drones proved to a be an exceptional low-cost solution
to these challenges.  

The conservation team found the front live-link HD camera an exceptional revelation, especially since they were immediately able to spot a diving boat on the LCD screen, that they could barely see from land. The UAV can fly for up to one and half hours, which, flying at 62kph, is a considerable distance and area potentially covered for surveillance.

Image Credit: Aeromao Inc. – www.aeromao.com

The pair of drones were also repeatedly operated in BVLOS
scenarios. In fact, 24 BVLOS flights were successfully flown during the trials,
average length of 10.9km and with total transect lengths of 263km.  The UAV reached a furthest point Beyond
Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS) of 11.3km. BVLOS was tested in a scenario where
the conservation officers particularly wanted to scope out a development site
several kilometres away across a large bay in order to detect any infringement
of their building contract.The amphibious drone was able to fly to the
site of interest at 110m altitude, gather intelligence and fly back very
quickly. The images & video recorded highlighted that indeed illegal
building work had been occurring. Without the UAV the conservation officers
would have no way of knowing this and they were very excited at this revelation
“We now have the tool we need to see further and faster than before. No one
will see us coming!”, Maurice, a conservation officer reported.

“The pair of drones were also repeatedly operated in BVLOS scenarios. In fact, 24 BVLOS flights were successfully flown during the trials, average length of 10.9km and with total transect lengths of 263km.  The UAV reached a furthest point Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS) of 11.3km.”

Image Credit: Aeromao Inc. – www.aeromao.com

Whilst the UAV flies, the 20mp nadir camera takes 5 images per
second, or stunning HD film and the front camera, which can be panned left to
right, films and records a live stream, allowing the conservation officers and
us, to see what’s out there, in real time, on an LCD screen back at the ground
station. Although the drones normally fly on pre-designed routes in auto mode,
switching to “assisted mode” to investigate something of interest, is no
problem. This kind of flexibility means that if fishers are found in the wrong
place, the drones can be steered quickly to get closer pictures of them or
loiter around the point of interest at the desired altitude to keep a constant
eye in the sky, or if dolphins are spotted for example, the drones can be
redirected to take a closer look and use the images to estimate the numbers of
the population in the area. Mapping of habitats, using the nadir camera was
also possible. Some areas of coral reef and seagrass beds were mapped using
Agisoft Metashape.  

Several static launches of the UAV from a small, moving skiff were
successfully performed, which is something that is unheard of for a fixed wing
– long range amphibious unmanned aircraft. This is a tremendously important,
and previously unknown ability of the UAV, as it now means that the conservation
officers can steam to an area where a beach for launching may not exist (very
common in mangrove forests), and simply launch from the boat, then land on the
water besides the skiff once the mission is completed. This way, no-where the
atoll is out of reach for the conservation team.

Impressive geo-referenced images of turtles, sharks, eagle rays,
manatees and birds were gathered during the surveys. A variety of habitats were
captured, and to identify environmental issues, such as accumulation of plastic
debris, and of sargassum seaweed which can cause deoxygenation of the water and
block out sunlight.

Data
was used to build a spatial picture of how the atoll is used, be it by fishers
or fauna, i.e. how the animals use different habitats and when, and when and
where fishers are acting with impunity. The results and conclusions can feed
directly into planning where marine protected zones are placed. Previously,
information on fish abundances would be collected from by-catch on fishing
vessels. Since the Turneffe Atoll is a protected area, you can’t rely on catch
data anymore- this is where the drones really come into their own as a
non-invasive and efficient tool for surveying.

The scientists leading the expedition stated that having a UAV
which can easily land on the ocean, safely, and be flown again in moments, is an
exceptionally valuable tool. Likewise, the conservation officers in the
Turneffe Atoll are adamant that a UAV like the ones trialled, will become an
essential part of their patrolling and enforcement strategy, which will
ultimately lead to increased biodiversity in the area.

Read
full report Case Study and Technical Report here: https://www.aeromao.com/2019/08/02/aeromapper-talon-amphibious-routinely-fly-bvlos-missions-over-marine-reserve-for-illegal-fishing-detection-and-biodiversity-research/

Melissa Schiele
Amphibious drone tech/Postgraduate research assistant

Institute of Zoology
Zoological Society of London, 
Regent’s Park, London NW1 4RY

Email: melissa.schiele@ioz.ac.uk

Twitter: @explorer_mel

TY  – BOOK

AU  – Schiele, Melissa

AU  – Letessier, Tom

AU  – Burke, Claire

PY  – 2019/05/01

SP  –

T1  – Amphibious Drone Field
Report, Belize. In partnership with the Turneffe Atoll Sustainability Association,
Zoological Society of London, the Marine Management Organisation and the
Bertarelli Foundation

DO  –
10.13140/RG.2.2.35265.92004

ER  –

About the Aeromapper Talon Amphibious

The
Amphibious version of the Aeromapper Talon allows maritime operations by
autonomously belly landing on water. It’s the perfect solution for scouting,
data collection and mapping thanks to its dual camera set up and long-range
video link, up to 2hr endurance and demonstrated BVLOS capabilities up to 30kms
from the operators.

The
only truly amphibious multipurpose fixed wing drone in the market today, it can
sustain repeated operations in salt or fresh water. Perfect for:

  • Fisheries
  • Marshlands
  • Marine research
    and conservation
  • Search and rescue
  • Water quality
    monitoring
  • Off-shore
    infrastructure inspection
  • Coastal surveying
  • Hydrography
  • Marine management

More information:  https://www.aeromao.com/products/aeromapper-talon-amphibious/

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