Why Drones?

Technology, as a means of protecting our oceans, is at a critical state right now. The industry currently operates primarily using military resources that employ technologies and approaches that are decades old. Often times, vessel and aerial patrols using current methods is typically too expensive for all but the richest nations. The majority of the monitoring and surveillance tends to fall into the jurisdiction of military planes and boats, leaving much of the developing world dependent on the charitable support of the wealthiest militaries. This is typically a low priority for them to address, which allows for this unsustainable harvesting to become increasingly prevalent. However, while enforcement is typically a military or police activity, the monitoring can be effectively decoupled from it to provide additional capability through communities and conservation organizations.

Since the invention of the aircraft, governments and other organizations have used them for aerial monitoring. The current form of aerial ocean monitoring is through the use of manned aircraft, typically equipped with radar systems, an array of sensors, and imaging platforms. In many cases, these are current or decommissioned military-level aircraft with rates for surveillance missions running from $4,000 to $40,000 per hour (or more). Sometimes smaller aircraft or helicopters are used, although fuel costs can get prohibitive in patrolling at an appropriate frequency. However, the area that an aerial patrol can cover in an hour is typically about 50 times larger than what can be covered by surface vessels. These traditional manned aerial patrols, as they are currently operated, are unable to meet the needs of stopping this global IUU fishing epidemic.

In 2012, Scientific American picked the civilian use of drones as one of their 10 ideas that will change the world. More and more military operations are making use of UAVs as a result of their ease of use, endurance, and risk mitigation. As a result of this attention, this technology has enjoyed an accelerated rate of innovation and advancement. This leaves a great opportunity for environmental and humanitarian causes to take advantage of this innovation. Through the democratization and demilitarization of this technology, new industries can take control and reap the benefits. Through identifying better and cheaper platforms for observation, it allows for new approaches to conservation. We can create all the protected areas and marine sanctuaries in the world, but without a smarter way to protect them, they are flawed. The use of UAVs can provide a safer monitoring capacity that can operate far beyond what manned operations can do in terms of flexibility and time-to-flight. These aircraft can help to document these illegal activities to provide a much stronger case for enforcement organizations and decision makers to change this problem for good.