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Conservation Research Interview Series by Alicia Amerson
Astrid Hsu - an early career scientist is exploring drones to monitor mangrove health in Mexico.
What inspired you to use drones for conservation work?
My Principal Investigator (PI) Dr. Octavio Aburto and I thought of this project together. As a photographer, he uses drones to take aerial imagery. We realized the potential that drones have to look at mangrove habitats quickly and efficiently, especially in comparison to tedious on-the-ground work.
If you could describe your current project in three words what would they be?
Mangroves, mangroves, mangroves! Just kidding….
Mangroves, drones, and conservation
Describe your current project and how you’re using drones.
My current project in the Aburto Lab collaborates closely with Engineers for Exploration (E4E) and Centro para la Bioversidad Marina y Conservación A.C. (CBMC). We are utilizing on-the-ground measurements with drone and satellite imagery to collect data on mangrove distribution and extent. Our project can be defined on three levels of resolution:
Describe how drones are changing the way we conserve mangroves.
Mangrove coverage estimations in Mexico are done once every five years or so, and at a very coarse level. Despite the habitats providing an incredible breadth of ecosystem services--such as filtering water, storing carbon, producing fisheries, and buffering storms--valued at over $100,000 per hectare per year; mangroves are being deforested at a global rate of 1-2% per year.
Part of protecting these habitats is better understanding and communicating these often misunderstood ecosystems. However, traditional on-the-ground methods of mangrove data collection is an incredibly laborious process. By using drones, we can easily image more than 50 times the area in the same amount of time that it takes to conduct one ground survey. This high barrier to data collection has hindered our understanding on mangroves and their value in ecosystem services, and thus the resulting conservation of these habitats. Drones are key tools to overcoming this obstacle that are both economically scalable and scientifically robust.
When you applied for your current position what did you know about drones and conservation?
Very little about drones, but much more about conservation! I had only understand drones as a recreational device, something of a hobby, and didn’t even consider it’s application to conservation--let alone marine conservation.
What challenges have you experienced using drones?
Baja California Sur, especially in the summer, gets very hot and humid. Overheating drones is something that we’ll face and work with. We’ve also dealt with strong winds at some of our sites, so we’ve had to take caution in when we fly, and how we fly. While we haven’t had to deviate from our protocol, we have had to change our flight plan to accommodate these conditions.
What type of drones do you use to study mangroves? Why did you select this platform?
We use the Phantom 4 Pro, mainly because the price point is fantastic for the battery life, camera specifications, and size.
What products do you produce from a drone flight and how do you use it for science?
We produce orthomosaics and 3D maps that help us calculate biomass and mangrove community composition.
To connect with Astrid
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