Unmanned aircraft help scientists monitor endangered sea turtles

Researchers at Duke University and the University of North Carolina have begun using drones to count endangered sea turtles along the Costa Rica coast. Sea turtles are difficult to estimate because they live so much in the sea that they only land onshore to lay their eggs during the nesting season.

If counting this animal by boat at sea or on the beach when they nest in some areas, it is completely impossible to give an exact number.

Therefore, drones are equipped with high-resolution cameras with extremely good infrared vision. During flights, it will fly fixedly 300 feet above the water level of the Ostional National Wildlife Refuge. This location allows researchers to view a large area at the same time and see turtles under the water, which cannot be seen in a boat.

During the breeding season, researchers discovered hundreds of thousands of sea turtles on the shore and they estimated that there were about 2,100 sea turtles per km2 at the peak of the breeding season. This figure is much higher than scientists expected due to the data from these aircraft.

Vanessa Bézy, Dr. Vanessa Bézy said: “Our findings show that drones can be used as a powerful tool to study the abundance of sea turtles at sea, and said the density of turtles in Ostional’s nearshore habitat, “said Vanessa Bézy, a UNC candidate and co-lead researcher. “The development of this method provides new insights for the conservation and future study of marine animals.”

This study was the first to use unmanned aircraft to count sea turtles.