Oceans Unmanned’s ECO-Drone program to focus on possible disruption of wildlife caused by UAS



Oceans Unmanned, Inc. has launched a new program called ECO-Drone, for Environmentally Conscious Operations, to address concerns surrounding UAS possibly disrupting wildlife in a variety of remote habitats.

Acute or chronic disturbances can have a significant impact on the health and fitness of different species, by throwing off migratory patterns, breeding, feeding, or sheltering.

To address these potential issues, ECO-Drone works with federal and state agencies, industry, and education institutions to “develop and communicate “best practices” to minimize or eliminate resource disturbance issues due to scientific or recreational drone operations.”

The program has three primary goals. The first is to “increase public awareness of existing marine resource protection regulations and policies that apply to research and recreational drone use.”

The second goal is to “engage and educate recreational drone operators to respect ocean wildlife,” and the third goal is to “encourage federal and state marine resource management agencies to modernize and refine existing policies and regulations to address the potential disturbance of drone use.”

To start, the program will focus on coastal and marine resources, but it will eventually expand to address terrestrial disturbance issues as well.

“These inexpensive, off-the-shelf drones have the potential to revolutionize biological monitoring and inspire a whole new generation to research, explore and photograph our ocean coastlines and marine environment,” says Matt Pickett, Director of Oceans Unmanned.

“But they also pose a challenge to wildlife, as previously inaccessible habitats are exposed to new disturbances. ECO-Drone will engage and educate the user community to ensure all wildlife and their habitats are respected and protected.”

The research on interactions between UAS and wildlife is in its infancy, but there is concern on the part of scientists and resource managers about how UAS will “expose previously inaccessible habitats to aerial disturbance with real consequences.”

An example of this is an entire colony being effected by a singular “flushing event of a bird off a nest,” which can cause the loss off eggs or chicks.

A direct outreach campaign and an education partnership are the first two projects underway under the new initiative. Alongside the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), Oceans Unmanned is working to give out informational postcards about UAS etiquette at coastal access points along the central California coast. 

Oceans Unmanned is also working with DARTdrones, which provides UAS training and consultation, to develop an ECO-Drone training module, that educates UAS operators at the beginning of their careers and businesses.