Drones For Land Trust Monitoring and Management: Online

MaRRS lab director Dr. David Johnston reviews the layout of a fixed-wing UAS with students.A hexacopter prepares to land after a successful survey.Many modern unmanned aerial systems fly automated flight paths, which allow for consistent and repeatable mapping products. In the field, pilots can monitor or update the flight in real time via a laptop.A highly accurate orthomosaic of a restoration site generated from images collected by a small unmanned aerial system. These types of orthomosaics are fully geo-rectified and are ideal for making “on the ground” measurements.An orthomosaic of a barrier island (Shackleford Banks NC) and seagrass complex generated from images collected by unmanned aerial systems. UAS can be used to map a variety of landscapes, and can be especially useful when areas are inaccessible to “boots on the ground” approaches.

Unmanned aerial systems (UAS, also known as drones) are game-changing tools used for on-demand aerial surveys and mapping. For a land trust, UAS can offer significant benefits in survey efficiency, economy, frequency, and quality, but knowing when and how to utilize the technology can be challenging. There are many types of aircraft, support equipment, and software available, making informed adoption of these tools essential.

The Duke University Marine Robotics and Remote Sensing Lab is offering a new, web-based course to help land trusts determine if and how UAS can be applied to their holdings. Duke’s research group, based at the Duke Marine Lab in Beaufort, NC, is a leader in the use of UAS for conservation and management, with over 1300 hours of flight time from surveys conducted across a variety of tropical, temperate and polar environments.

Please contact us at execed@nicholas.duke.edu for updates on our next planned offering.

Questions? Contact us at execed@nicholas.duke.edu


This course is primarily directed at land trust and stewardship organizations, and class discussions are presented in the context of these organizations’ needs. However, most concepts are broadly applicable to conservation research and environmental professionals, including (but not limited to):

  • Conservation NGOs
  • Environmental/project management consultants
  • Government agencies involved with easement monitoring
  • Stewardship managers
  • GIS analysts
  • Other personnel interested in improving survey quality or efficiency
  • Academic research and technical staff
  • Professionals looking to gain familiarity with UAS

Potential application to environmental research fields including:  animal management/conservation, coastal management/river & flood assessment, ecology, forestry, terrain monitoring, expeditions and adventure guiding, geomorphology and resiliency projects.

Participants will have an opportunity to learn why and how to utilize drone technology for conservation research projects.  For more information, please contact the NS Exec Ed program.

Online Program Description

The Course Will:

  • Describe UAS contributions to baseline documentation, surveys, monitoring, landowner relations, and volunteer programs.
  • Introduce UAS workflows, including aircraft preparation, flight planning, and data processing.
  • Showcase different types of UAS data products, their applications, and how to analyze them.
  • Evaluate different types of small UAS, sensors, and support software to determine which combinations meet land trusts’ budget and goals.
  • Investigate which types of holdings can benefit from UAS, and which are better left to “boots on the ground” or other remote sensing methods.
  • Discuss the regulations and restrictions on UAS use, and what they mean for land trust monitoring.
    Create a network of environmental professionals working on similar projects across the globe.
  • Students will receive a letter from the Nicholas School Executive Education program acknowledging participation in the course.  This course is NOT eligible for official university course credit.

Online Course Format:

  • Material will be available to students March 1-31, 2018.
  • Each weekly session includes access to 2-3 short video learning modules.  Videos are 5-15 minutes long; students can review the videos at their own pace
  • Course instructor Alex Seymour will offer a weekly 1-hour synchronous discussion (time and day TBD)

Lead Instructor: Alex Seymour, Research Associate, Duke Marine Robotics and Remote Sensing Lab

Faculty Instructor: David Johnston, Assistant Professor of the Practice of Marine Conservation Ecology

General Course Policies

We accept credit cards and checks payable to Duke University Conference Services (mail to NSEE: UAV2017, 036 Bryan Center, Box 90847, Durham, NC 27708-0841).

Payment is due upon receipt of invoice or no less than 15 days before the start of the course. If special arrangements must be made for payment due to agency requirements, you must contact our office no less than 15 days prior to the start of the course at execed@nicholas.duke.edu to complete and submit a payment due notice form.

Failure to make payment arrangements 15 days prior to the start of the course may result in the forfeit of your seat and you will be held responsible for the full tuition of the course. Future registrations will not be accepted from individuals with unpaid invoices.

Course certificates will not be provided until payment is received.

Cancellation & Transfer Policy
Cancellation of registration requires 15 days written notice prior to course start date in order to receive a refund (please submit notification to execed@nicholas.duke.edu). Individuals who do not attend and fail to send written notice prior to the deadline will be charged the full tuition. You may send a substitute to attend the course in your place. However, a $100.00 administrative fee will be assessed for this change, regardless of when written notice is submitted.  Any cancellation or substitute request must be received in writing.

  • 15 or more days prior to the course start date – Full tuition refund, minus a $100 administrative fee.
  • Less than 15 days prior to the course start date – Full tuition is assessed and a refund is forfeited.
  • Substitute within your organization can attend in your place for an additional $100.00 administrative fee.

In order to receive a refund, you must cancel your registration (in writing to execed@nicholas.duke.edu) by 5:00 pm on the refund deadline date for the course.