Picture a scene that’s synonymous with the climate crisis. Maybe your mind jumped to the Amazon rainforest or the polar ice caps, where deforestation and rapid melting have long been rallying points for conservation efforts. But the latest research suggests it’s oceans that are key to tempering climate change.
In fact, a microorganism you’ve probably never heard of captures 40% of Earth’s carbon emissions (opens in new tab) and produces oxygen for two out of every three breaths you take. These microscopic algae are called phytoplankton. It’s both the cornerstone of the marine ecosystem and a highly effective carbon capture system.
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Phytoplankton depends on a steady supply of nutrients, including phosphorus, iron, and nitrogen. Fortunately, right at the top of the ocean food chain lives an incredibly efficient fertilizing machine: the whale.
Drones have given scientists and research teams around the world an affordable but game-changing way to gather data. Nowhere is that clearer than the field of marine conservation, where research missions have traditionally been limited to well-funded projects and a privileged few.
For Dr Iain Kerr and the team at Ocean Alliance, camera drones (opens in new tab) have democratized access to ocean research and revolutionized the way whale data is gathered. The SnotBot concept turns DJI drones into flying Petri dishes – it’s crude, inspiring, and utterly brilliant. As a result, Kerr’s team has captured the imaginations of countless conservationists.
Sea Shepherd used DJI drones to track and log illegal fishing activity (opens in new tab) in the South Indian Ocean. With an eye in the sky, the team captured evidence of illegal drift nets and documented the crew attempting to hide evidence of their activities.
On dry land, drones are supporting conservation efforts from Antarctica to Borneo. Often researchers simply need to count animal populations to understand the challenges they face over time. However, nature rarely forms an orderly queue. Combined with image recognition software, drones offer a quick and cost-effective way to scan large areas, operating high above terrain that would otherwise be difficult for teams on the ground to access.
Whether it’s mapping the location of 300,000 nesting pairs of Adélie penguins or using thermal imaging to detect the heat signatures of polar bear dens, drones are empowering environmental projects.