The SAL is developing a variety of platforms for low altitude aerial photography. Some of the more advanced and popular platforms are known as “drones” or “UAVs” (unmanned aerial vehicle). Balloon mapping is also becoming quite popular and kite aerial photography or “KAP” is closely related. We are working to develop techniques and expertise in all three platforms, but most of our experience and success to date is kite based.
Smith’s ongoing Coral Reef Ed-Ventures Program in San Pedro on Ambergris Caye begins its 13th year with efforts to identify new research opportunities. One such opportunity may be the incorporation of low altitude aerial imagery to support the management and protection of the Hol Chan Marine Reserve, located south of Ambergris Caye. Kite photography offers several advantages over traditional (airplane based) aerial photography:
- low cost,
- simple setup and operation, students can begin capturing images within minutes of deployment,
- timely image acquisition – many areas in Belize are undergoing rapid change, and these changes can be documented and quantified,
- acquisition at altitudes not accessible by plane (~ 50 – 200 meters),
- high resolution, cloud free imagery, and
We plan to utilize UAVs in January 2015 to establish a baseline inventory of both coral reef and mangrove forest ecosystems using field data and high resolution imagery (via kite or UAV). Conservation planning efforts will be enhanced once we know the spatial extent, coverage and reef species within the marine habitat.