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Episode 15 - Facebook Live - The Six Steps of the STRIVE Plan
by Alicia Amerson
Alicia Amerson is interviewed about drones and wildlife disturbance. July 10, 2018
How to use drones without stressing wildlife
Our guest is Alicia Amerson, a marine biologist, drone user, and science communicator. She tells us why it’s critical to have best practices for drones in place not only to guide hobbyists making videos of whales or birds, but especially before companies like Amazon.com deploy fleets of drones in our skies.
After getting a Master’s degree in marine biodiversity and conservation from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California, San Diego, Amerson spent two seasons on a research project flying drones over mother whales and their calves in Australia.
Drones, also known as unmanned aerial vehicles or UAVs, are a hot topic in conservation research these days. They’re used to monitor coral reefs and wildlife for instance, and can actually be used to produce wildlife population counts much more quickly and accurately than traditional methods allow.
But when Amerson returned home to California from Australia, she noticed the use of drones on the coastline was becoming much more common, especially among drone hobbyists and wildlife lovers. She was alarmed: wildlife like seabirds, seals, and sea lions on the California coast are often disturbed by humans, and the drones were just adding another level of disturbance. That’s when Amerson convened a group of experts to develop best practices for drone pilots and subsequently founded Alimosphere, a company that works with conservationists, drone entrepreneurs, and outdoor enthusiasts to reduce drone disturbances of wildlife and promote the use of drones for conservation research.
During our conversation, Amerson referenced a recent Mongabay commentary that laments the fact that the media often only becomes interested in wildlife conservation stories when a species has gone extinct or is nearing extinction.
Amerson says that she doesn’t want a similar scenario to play out regarding the impacts of drones on wildlife:
“I want to hit the panic button and create policy” before we have drone-based delivery services by companies like Amazon and Uber “and look and collect data to make sure that we understand what populations are using the skies before we release all of these drones into our world. And so you have to create best practices and policies before all this really gets out of control.”
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As in humans, cumulative impacts to animals lead to chronic stress and may eventually lead to sickness and death. There is a long line of people behind you thinking it’s only one selfie or one drone flight. Most likely you’ll never see the long line of people behind you impacting the wildlife.
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Document all of your lessons learned and changes in protocols and share these lessons with other drone pilots. Join a Facebook group dedicated to pilots who fly responsibly. Make certain every drone flight ends with a log including your flight time, location, and wildlife encounters.
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Nesting birds are known to use habitats adjacent to pinniped sites. Drones are known to cause nesting birds to flush, which is especially dangerous for birds that nest on cliffs where eggs can fall. Perform oblique surveying of marine mammals where cliff nesters are present. Flying overhead may cause a flushing event. Contact local seabird researchers to find out more about seasonal behavior of seabirds around pinniped sites.
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Nursery pods, isolated mother and calf pairs, and isolated calves should also be left alone, as should animals that appear to be resting or avoiding aircraft and/or water vessels. A nursery pod is a large number of dolphins traveling together and strictly made up of only mother and calf pairs.
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