The rapid expansion of technically capable and inexpensive Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS)* has tremendous potential to assist marine researchers and resource managers in monitoring and protecting our ocean and coastal marine wildlife. At the same time, these systems pose a unique challenge to marine wildlife as commercial off-the-shelf systems become more widespread and user-friendly. Whales, dolphins, seabirds, seals, and sea lions that have enjoyed some protection from aircraft overflights and other human interaction due to the remote nature of their habitats, now face the potential for increased disturbance as every recreational and commercial vessel can become de-facto “aircraft carriers” and even the most rugged coastline becomes accessible by ever more capable drones.
While the policy and regulatory environment lags behind, and statutes such as the National Marine Sanctuaries Act (NMSA), Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA), and Endangered Species Act (ESA) need amending to address this emerging issue; a robust, focused education and outreach partnership program working with resource agencies, non-profits, and drone manufactures is required to limit the potential impacts to marine wildlife and develop “best practices” for recreational and commercial operators. This is mission of ECO-Drone – to develop and encourage Environmentally Conscious Operations of drones to protect and limit disturbances to marine resources.
* – while industry utilizes the term Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS), ECO-Drone will use the term drone when describing these systems to simplify the message in our education and outreach efforts.
Increase public awareness of existing marine resource protection regulations and policies that may apply to recreational drone use.
Engage and educate recreational drone operators to respect ocean wildlife.
Encourage federal and state marine resource management agencies to modernize and refine existing policies and regulations to address the potential disturbance of recreational drone use
Create a marketing campaign utilizing social and traditional media, conference presentations, and partnerships to promote ECO-Drone goals
Develop a single website portal to consolidate all relevant information regarding the safe, legal, and environmentally conscious operation of drones in the marine environment
Partner with consumer drone manufactures to develop a point-of-sale promotion to include materials in packaging off-the-shelf systems
Inspire federal and state political leaders to work proactively to address drone disturbance issues
This marine wildlife viewing guideline is intended to help you enjoy watching marine wildlife without causing them harm or placing personal safety at risk.
NOAA Fisheries supports these uses and plans to develop additional guidance for scientists using UAS in their research projects to help their impacts on the animals.
By following some common sense advice, recreational UAV owners can avoid many an ill-fated flight.