Fixed-Wing Platforms

Aerial mapping, wildlife surveys and emergency response using fixed-wing UAVs

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Multirotor Platforms

Mapping, behavioral sampling and photogrammetry using multirotor UAVs

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Coastal and Ocean Research

Experience working with UAVs in marine and extreme environments

Systems Engineering

Developing platforms for coastal and marine missions

Data Visualization

Making UAS data accessible

Drones in Marine Science and Conservation
Advancing Applications, Platforms, & Sensors | Duke Marine Lab
Meet the Bass Connections Team

We are the 2018 Bass Connections team, working with the Marine Robotics and Remote Sensing Lab. We’re excited to share our research path with you as we develop methods to evaluate coastal habitats using unoccupied aerial systems, or drones.

Meet the Team

Using drones for coastal zone management

Interested in using fixed wing drones for monitoring beach geomorphology and managing the coastal zone? Check out our new Open Access methods paper in the Journal of Coastal Research!

Read the paper!

New pubs: Comparing drones with occupied aircraft for seal surveys

Drones can be as effective as traditional methods for conducting wildlife population assessments, two Duke University studies confirm. Both studies used remote-controlled unoccupied aircraft systems (UAS) and traditional aircraft to conduct population surveys of gray seals on remote islands off the coasts of eastern Canada and New England.

The first study, published by Canada’s Department of Fisheries and Oceans in August 2017, looked at different methods to estimate gray seal pup populations on Sable Island, along the coast of Nova Scotia and in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. The second study, published in September in the peer-reviewed Journal of Unmanned Vehicle Systems, assessed image quality and survey performance for two types of drones – fixed-wing and multi-copter UAS – compared to traditional aircraft.

Results of both studies showed that the drones can provide accurate and efficient alternatives to using airplanes or helicopters. Plus you don’t have to buy a plane or a helicopter…

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Drones For Land Trust Monitoring and Management

Drones can be game-changing tools for conservation and environmental science, but information about how to appropriately adopt and apply these tools can be hard to come by. Starting March 1, 2018, we will be presenting a 1-month online course designed to help environmental professionals determine how and when to apply unmanned aerial systems (UAS) technology to their conservation projects, specifically focusing on land trust and stewardship applications.

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Antarctica Research Highlights

Last Winter, Dr. Dave Johnston, and lead engineer Julian Dale travelled to the Western Antarctica Peninsula Region and used drones to study the behavior and body condition of whales and assessed how populations of penguins and seals are responding to rapid warming.

Click here for more information!

Counting seals faster with drones and thermal imagery

We just published a new paper on using drones and thermal imagery to automatically detect and count marine wildlife. The paper focuses on using senseFly fixed-wing eBee UAS and their Thermomapper camera to detect adult and young-of-the-year gray seals in eastern Canada. In cooperation with Fisheries and Oceans Canada, we were able to survey two colonies and establish methods which dramatically reduce the time it takes to count seals during their breeding season. The approach is generalizable to other species, and includes details on an ArcGIS workflow to help other people get started. The paper is open access, published March 24, 2017 in Nature’s Scientific Reports

Read the paper!

Drones and Debris: East Carteret High School AP Environmental Science Class

As part of the outreach program at the Duke Marine Lab Unoccupied Systems Facility, Rett Newton and Julian Dale developed and implemented a project-based addition to the East Carteret High School Advanced Placement Environmental Science class. This class of 8 students participated with the UAS facility to detect and identify marine debris on the Rachel Carson Reserve in Beaufort, NC using drones and multi-spectral sensors. The class was introduced to emerging drone technologies, analyzed high resolution aerial images and orthomosaics of marine debris and conducted on-site “ground-truthing” assessments and removal of marine debris from the Reserve. Finally, the student’s presented their analyses to Town and County Commissioners, scientists from the Rachel Carson Reserve and Duke University, and the Assistant Director of the Onslow County Solid Waste Department (who is also the Coordinator of the NC Marine Debris Symposium).

Mapping vulnerable coastal terrain with drones and lasers

Our research group teamed up with coastal geologists from Antonio Rodriguez’ lab at UNC Institute of Marine Sciences to map out the terrain of Bird Shoals using drones and lasers (ah, sweet, sweet science!). This thin spit of land is part of the barrier island complex that protects downtown Beaufort (and the Duke Marine Lab!) from storms coming through the rapidly widening Beaufort Inlet. The data collected establish an accurate modern baseline for the west end of the island.

See the maps

Calculating sea turtle densities in Costa Rica

The Duke Marine Robotics and Remote Sensing Lab is calculating nearshore marine turtle densities in the Eastern Tropical Pacific by partnering with researchers from the University of North Carolina whose work focuses on gaining a better understanding of the environmental cues that lead to sea turtle mass nesting events (arribadas) in Costa Rica. After using fixed-wing aircraft to conduct aerial transects, the team analyzed hundreds of images and is working with a Californian company to develop software that can be used to automatically identify turtles. Besides developing cheaper, safer, and more effective methods for identifying individuals and calculating densities, this work will support future efforts to conduct broad-scale abundance and distribution assessments in aid of conservation and recovery efforts for these and other protected populations of sea turtles, both in Costa Rica and around the globe.

Check out update

Mapping the largest gray seal colony in the US

Duke researchers Julian Dale and Everette Newton joined a team of scientists from NOAA and MIT to study the distribution and density of adult gray seals and their pups on Muskeget Island near Nantucket, Massachusetts. Below are two preliminary uncorrected visualizations from the surveys – a 3D mesh model of the terrain and a high-resolution orthomosaic of the entire island.

The surveys were conducted with a senseFly eBee fixed-wing UAS and the images collected were processed with Pix4D software to generate these synthetic products. These data are being used in ongoing studies of the population biology of Western North Atlantic gray seals.

See the maps!

Sponsors and Collaborators