Improving MPA Management

How can Innovative Technology Protect Wildlife from Extinction?

Melissa Schiele, a marine ecologist from Loughborough University, uses a fixed-wing UAV drone to monitor the Marine Protected Area (MPA) of BIOT, in the Indian Ocean.

With only one British vessel patrolling more than 640,000 km², the conservation of an MPA of this size is a challenge.

The main reason for the creation of this MPA is to prevent South Asian fishing vessels targeting tuna stocks and shark fins from operating in the area. However, despite restrictions illegal fishing still occurs. Prosecuting illegal fishers is extremely hard as finding definite evidence of the activities in real time is a challenge. Schiele stated: “We believe that we are the first to develop a fixed wing unit for landing in water specifically designed for marine surveillance and ecology” making their research a pioneer in the field. The use of drones could tackle this issue by obtaining photographs of the illegal fishing as well as the ships ID creating solid evidence.

The research was largely based on the BIOT ship and presented a unique set of challenges. Dynamic home positioning will bring the drone back to its starting point, which can be confusing when the launch point is a moving ship. Sea landing caused seawater to leak in the machine forcing Melissa to spend several sleepless nights fixing the drone.

“We hope that the drone will become a powerful tool in ecology and surveillance once it is fully waterproof. The aim for the drone to be a revolutionary tool for potential MPA managers in developing countries as well as marine scientists with limited funding.”