Unoccupied aircraft systems (UAS) are transforming marine science and conservation

February 17, 2021

Unoccupied aircraft systems (UAS) are transforming marine science and conservation

David W. JohnstonAssociate Professor of the Practice of Marine Conservation & Ecology Division of Marine Science and Conservation, Nicholas School of the Environment, Duke University Marine Laboratory, 135 Duke Marine Lab Rd., Beaufort, NC 28516

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The use of unoccupied aircraft systems (UAS, aka drones) has become commonplace in marine science and conservation. These systems now provide scientists with on-demand remote sensing capacity across polar, temperate, and tropical ecosystems, applied to problems spanning the major divisions of the natural sciences. Drones are also increasingly employed for natural resource management, and are changing how we monitor human interactions with built and natural environments. Advances in consumer technology have facilitated the rapid growth of drone availability, facilitating their use in science and conservation through their affordability, immediacy, and efficiency, without sacrificing data quality and safety. This presentation provides examples of how these key qualities combine to make drones ideal tools for an increasing range of science applications, across spatial and temporal scales. Also provided are important caveats that presently constrain how drones may be applied in science and conservation programs, along with an overview of best practices and guiding principles for those seeking to employ UAS technology in their research programs.


Dr. David W. Johnston is an Associate Professor of the Practice of Marine Conservation & Ecology in the Nicholas School of the Environment at Duke University and the Director of the Marine Robotics and Remote Sensing (MaRRS) Lab at the Duke University Marine Laboratory. Johnston holds a PhD from Duke University and received post-doctoral training at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute in California. His professional experience ranges from leading research programs for NOAA to working as an ecologist within the NGO sector. Johnston’s research program currently focuses on advancing robotic applications, platforms and sensors for marine science, education, and conservation missions. He has published extensively in top journals in the fields of conservation biology, oceanography, marine ecology, remote sensing, and marine policy on research that spans tropical, temperate and polar biomes.


Seminar postcard