Marsh and Prairie Restoration

Sanctuary Staff Incorporating Drones into Research and Restoration Activities

The new tool can help measure restoration progress and guide future management efforts.

Now, more than ever, Audubon staff must get creative with technology to get the job done. At Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary, research and land management staff regularly overcome a number of obstacles to study and protect 13,000 acres of swampy and otherwise rugged terrain. The team has recently introduced a drone to their collective toolbox as a creative way of helping to accomplish several goals.

Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV), also called drones, are remote-controlled, flying devices that are usually equipped with a camera. Initially deployed for military operations, drones have become widely available for many uses, however; they are not permitted for recreational use at the Sanctuary.

Audubon staff began to experiment with this technology as a way to measure restoration progress and ultimately help guide management decisions. By flying a drone over a recently restored plot, they hope to be able to save staff time and equipment wear-and-tear because the drone can quickly and easily traverse soggy ground and tall, dense vegetation. The drone also has Geographic Information Systems (GIS) technology, enabling biologists to accurately trace the boundaries of restored plots to document restoration activities.

The drone can see things from above that can be difficult to access from the ground, such as pockets of coastal plain willow or non-native invasive plants that often try to move into a restored plot following the removal of woody natives. Drones can also be programmed to fly transects over restoration plots that researchers hope can help document coverage of woody and herbaceous plants before and after restoration.

Future applications could entail documenting the outcome of prescribed fire activities and conducting surveys of wading bird foraging or nesting activity. While drone operations will not eliminate our staff’s need to get on the ground and collect data using traditional methods, we are hopeful that this will be a valuable tool for improving some of our data accuracy and increasing our capacity.

Our staff is working closely with their network of colleagues to ensure we are using best practices for minimizing disturbance to wildlife and any disruption to our boardwalk visitors’ experience. The Sanctuary team is grateful to the donor who funded this new tool and other equipment to help monitor and protect Corkscrew’s wood storks and other wading birds.

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