Sea Grass and Sea Otter Survey in Homer Alaska
For this study, ACUASI engaged in two important partnerships: First, ACUASI partnered with the Coastal Marine Institute (CMI) (https://www.sfos.uaf.edu/cmi/) to perform a survey of intertidal sea grass species at low tide on beaches; second, ACUASI partnered with the UAF School of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences to fly unmanned aircraft to monitor feeding sea otters.
For the intertidal portion of the study with CMI, ACUASI evaluated the use of UAS in gathering low-tide data from beaches near Homer, Alaska. The goal was to see how UAS might provide efficiency gains over the current method of manual sampling of data points and allow larger portions of the beach to be surveyed before the low-tide window was over. The Aeryon Scout was the primary aircraft employed with the 5.4 mm RageCam Hero3 GoPro used for data collection. Technically the project was successful, though a better resolution camera and better live streaming video would aid in gathering better data.
In April 2015, looking to improve upon previous results, the ACUASI team re-flew the same beaches with the Ptarmigan unmanned aircraft and a higher-resolution and better quality camera--replacing the Aeryon Scout. Following FAA approval of a certificate of authorization (COA) modification, several days of flights were flown. With the greater payload capability and a customized configuration, the Ptarmigan was able to satisfy all mission goals and objectives.
For the UAF School of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences portion of the project, the goals was to fly unmanned aircraft to monitor feeding sea otters in the waters near Homer, Alaska. The goal was to pair the UAS observations with traditional shore-based telescope observers in order to determine the effect, if any, that UAS have on the otters' habits. The outcome seemed to be that for the most part the animals were not disturbed by the aircraft and that UAS could be successfully used to observe their feeding habits.