Unmanned aircraft to monitor animal population in Northwest Hawaiian Islands

Reported by: Manolo Morales

Unmanned aircraft have played vital roles in the military and space exploration. They could soon help with preserving marine resources.

It’s called the Puma Unmanned Aircraft System. And the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA, is looking to use the planes to monitor the ocean.

Todd Jacobs, NOAA Unmanned Aircraft Program said, “it weighs about 13 pounds, flies for about two hours, it’s electrically powered so it has batteries.”

At first glance it looks like a model airplane. But this one has a high definition camera built in that can send streaming video by computer. Scientists with NOAA would like to launch the planes from a boat and monitor remote areas such as the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument.

“So we don’t have to risk personnel being landed on the beaches exotic species introduction potential gets eliminated and we believe it’ll be less potential for any disturbance of the critters that are being surveyed,” said Jacobs.

Jacobs says the aircraft can make it easier to track marine animals for their census. And can provide additional information that’s missing from satellites. The aircraft can also be used to help researchers get a better look at marine debris. With debris from the Japan tsunami already washing up on U-S shores, the aircraft can help them track it better and evaluate the impact.

Peter Murphy, NOAA Marine Debris Program said, “It really does create a wide variety of impacts that we’re trying to research to put together to understand how the marine debris that’s added has an end impact on both the resources and also the human health and safety.”

NOAA is looking to buy two systems which come with three planes each from a company called AeroVironment. Officials say there are about a thousand of them that are already being used. It’s the same type of aircraft used by the military for surveillance.

“They’re very quiet they’re very innocuous and may reduce some of the risks to personnel from the traditional methods where people are actually landed by small boat ,” said Jacobs.