Monitoring Sea Turtle Activity with MiSHELL Drones
Surveillance of marine turtle nesting and hatching is most often done by people walking the beach at dawn or sunset, observing sea turtle tracks in the sand, and following them to nests created during the night. Effectiveness of this method depends on the number of beach walkers, level of expertise, and distance needed to be covered on a daily basis. For some nesting beaches this may be adequate, but for beaches subjected to heavy predation, recreational activity, remoteness, or poaching, significant benefits may be achieved through more timely and safe surveillance. For most nesting beaches, beach walking surveillance will prove difficult to achieve or sustain.
Small Unmanned Aerial Systems (sUAS), also referred to as drones, offer the potential for better timeliness, consistency, overall effectiveness, and more widespread application. Dronesmay be able to perform surveillance of marine turtle nesting throughout day and night under most weather conditions. Several groups have already demonstrated some capability using simple drones streaming video to ground operators.
Drones have been around for more than 70 years, but they evolved quickly during that past few years with the introduction of high performance, low power consumption microprocessors developed for smart phones and tablets. Kashmir World Foundation (KwF) is a world leader in the application of embedded systems -- microprocessors distributed throughout the drone -- to achieve a very high degree of autonomy. Drones also have benefited from the development of high performance single board computers such as the Raspberry Pi 2. This enables onboard processing imagery and other data, eliminating the need for streaming large quantities of data to ground computers for post mission processing.
KwF has been working to design, fabricate, integrate, and operate “MiSHELL” - a fully autonomous custom drone with the ability to collect and process data onboard. MiSHELLDrones will be “trained” to perform the functions of human beach walkers, identifying and locating turtle tracks, following the tracks to locate nests, observing nests, and reporting on their location and condition. Additional pattern recognition and reporting capabilities will be added as required by the marine turtle research and protection community. The results of this project are expected to determine how effective and efficient drones could be in marine turtle monitoring programs.