Melissa Schiele PhD student

Zoological Society of London


My Ph.D. research aims to straddle the frontiers between marine conservation, illegal fisheries, and engineering as well as to find practical solutions to governance and monitoring problems in Marine Protected Areas (MPA) by using unique drones and remote sensing technology.

The main focus of the project is building enforcement and monitoring capacity in MPAs. The use of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) in marine ecology and conservation is building momentum. Many research groups are exploring this new way to understand population dynamics, document abundance trends, map habitats, collect pictures of animals and more. Our team has developed and extensively trailed the first waterproofed fixed-wing UAV for specific use in research and maritime surveillance. I explore how to technologically improve the drone itself, increase its sensor array and simplify the model, increase endurance and test durability in the field. We are confident from our preliminary results and initial feedback from partner NGOs, that this system can be integrated into everyday patrols and strategies in MPAs worldwide. To our knowledge, we are the only team to have successfully trialled this type of drone within MPAs for both illegal vessel detection and marine megafauna monitoring.

Our first trials were held in the Indian Ocean Region in June/July 2018. I flew the first iteration of the drone for 2 months, testing its capacity to detect megafauna and illegal (or decoy) fishing vessel. We were able detect various shark species, sea birds, eagle rays, a manta ray as well as fishing gear behind small vessels from 65m altitude. The second trials with the second drone iteration was held in Belize in February 2019. The improved cameras on-board led to more animal detection, including sea turtles and manatees.

The Marine Management Organisation (MMO) is working in partnership with ZSL on this project and we hope to bring the UAV back to the Indian Ocean Region for further extensive trials in 2020. As part of the Blue Belt Programme, the MMO are investigating how innovative technology can support compliance and enforcement of MPAs around the UK Overseas Territories (UKOTs), particularly in relation to surveillance and prevention of Illegal Unreported Unregulated fishing (IUU). As such, they are primarly interested in UAV as a tool for wildlife monitoring and conservation.


It is not that life ashore is distasteful to me. But life at sea is better.

Sir. Francis Drake


2019 Present
Visiting Researcher at Exeter University (Exeter Marine)
2019 Present
Ph.D. Student at Loughborough University (Wolfson School of Mechanical, Electrical and Manufacturing Engineering) with the Zoological Society of London
2019 Present
Zoological Society of London, Post graduate research assistant and Amphibious drone technician and pilot
2017 2018
MSc. Conservation Science, Imperial College London and the Zoological Society of London
2011 2017
Project management roles around the world, including over two years in the Maldives, REDD+ and aquaculture and aquarist roles
2010 2011
MSc. International Marine Environmental Consultancy, Newcastle University
2008 2010
Project manager, palaeontological conservation, The Natural History Museum, London
2005 2008
BSc. (Hons) Geology with Science Communication, Royal Holloway University of London

My Project

  • Tackling Illegal Fishing
    Human Dimensions of the Blue Horizon: Behavioural Insights for Compliance and Deterrence
  • Tackling Illegal Fishing
    Using Drones for IUU Surveillance and Marine Megafauna Monitoring in MPAs

Other interests

Having practical and technical experience in aquariums and aquaculture, I have a strong interest in global fisheries and especially, socioeconomic drivers of IUU fisheries. I believe the most robust conservation solutions are born when qualitative and quantitative sciences are combined and hope to weave this pillar into my Ph.D. work and outputs.