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  • Writer's pictureTyesha Ferron

3 Organizations Using Drones to Help Conservation Efforts

Credit: @noaafisheries on Instagram

We’ve seen time and time again how drones are impacting industries: making them safer, faster, more effective, inexpensive the list goes on. Now, it’s time to look outside of industries and talk about how drones are helping the environment and conservation efforts. Businesses aren’t the only ones benefiting from UAV technology. We’ve mentioned before how drones have been used to help in the aftermath of wildfires, rescue animals, and people were even being encouraged to develop drone innovations for good in the UAE. To continue this conversation, let’s look at five organizations that are using drones and UAV technology to preserve wildlife and help with conservation efforts.

Unfortunately, one of the consequences of our everchanging world is the loss of biodiversity i.e. the extinction of plants and animals. Though scientists do what they can, efforts to preserve endangered species are not always successful. Thus, when scientists failed to propagate the endangered Hibiscadelphus woodii, “a relative of hibiscus last seen in 2009”, it was declared extinct in 2016.

That was the case until researchers from the National Tropical Botanical Garden (NTBG), based on the Hawaiian island of Kaua’i, rediscovered the flower in 2019. The NTBG is a nonprofit corporation that manages a network of five botanical gardens, preserves, and research facilities. Their aim is to conserve endangered fauna.

In Kalalau Valley, the rare cliff-dwelling flower was spotted via drone by Ben Nyberg, a drone specialist for NTBG. This valley was previously accessed by hiking, but the way was difficult and dangerous. Nyberg made the discovery in late January, and National Geographic describes his piloting technique:

“Nyberg was piloting the drone that made the discovery. He uses a grid system to scan the cliffs, also using his intuition to home in on patches to search. Nyberg gathers GPS points and marks attributes like elevation so plants can be found again.”

Wildlife Drones is an Australia-based organization that aims to help facilitate animal tracking. They have developed a way to use drones to do the heavy lifting when it comes to radio-tracking animal movement. They are using their drone-mounted tracking system, which “can be mounted to an off-the-shelf drone”, to track animals and aid in wildlife conservation efforts.

Wildlife Drones was founded by Dr. Debbie Saunders, an ecologist. Dr. Saunders got the idea for this organization from her work studying migratory birds with radio-tags. She found this work to be difficult due to the limitations of the technology she had at the time, so she worked to find a solution. Utilizing the expertise of engineers, designers, and pilots, Dr. Saunders was able to draw on drone technology to develop “the world’s most advanced radio-tracking drone system” with her team.

This system is capable of providing real-time locations on multiple animals at a time. On their About page, Wildlife boasts that the information collected via their drone system has contributed to the reintroduction of endangered species and the search for missing tagged animals. Notably, they have helped track Sunda Pangolins in Vietnam, Goannas in Namadgi National Park, and Swift Parrots in Australia’s Tarcutta Hills Reserve. You can read more about what they’re up to on their blog.

Credit: KPIX CBS SF Bay Area

In May of 2019, we wrote an article about how one of our WWD ambassadors, Maddy Washburn, was able to use her drone to help the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) rescue team rescue a young gray whale caught in gillnet and line. NOAA is a government agency that deals with matters concerning “climate, weather, oceans and coasts”, and they actually have their own UAS program.

NOAA’s Unmanned Aircraft Sytems program seeks to bridge the gap between “instruments on Earth and on satellites” with the help of UAS. The program is dedicated to researching UAS technology and utilizing that technology to facilitate the NOAA’s goals. They were formally established after years of testing and working with “NASA and industry partners”, and we are now seeing the fruits of their labor.

Recently, NOAA posted on their blog about how they have been utilizing the advantages that come with working with drones. There, you can read about how NOA is using three unmanned autonomous surface vessels in the Bering Sea and the Arctic. These vessels are assessing the nation’s largest fishery in the Bering Sea, tracking Arctic and Atlantic weather, and mapping Alaska’s North Slope.


I am a writer and an artist based in Georgia. Specializing in illustration, graphic design, and video art, I love to explore the new ways technology intersects with art. I think drones have done amazing things for photography and video art, making what would previously be costly and difficult more accessible. As a complete novice, it was only recently that I saw what independent artists could do with their drones, and I continue to be impressed by the sights that drones are able to explore and the images they can capture. Instagram: @tyesha.ferron


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