Project Description

Background

BMRG has invested significantly in drone-based mapping technology and to enhance the skill level of staff within these fields. Drone technology has enabled BMRG to improve and expand our monitoring and evaluation, measure environmental changes over time and tell engaging stories with exceptional imagery. Combined with our suite of data visualization and analysis software, BMRG can produce high quality mapping solutions to assist in meeting project objectives.

In April 2020, BMRG was successful in acquiring its CASA Remote Operating Certificate (ReOC) allowing the organisation to operate under its own chief pilot, providing greater flexibility in available mission options and to be fully compliant and insured.

BMRG now has thirteen staff with their CASA Remote Pilots Licence (RePL) which includes eight pilots in the sub 7kg category and five pilots in the sub 25kg category.

The Team

Kevin Bowden – GIS/Drone Program Manager, Chief Remote Pilot and RPA Maintenance Controller

Simon Hunt – GIS Officer and Drone Pilot

Sam Morison – Drone Pilot Technical Support Officer

Drone Technology

BMRG has a fleet of six drones, accompanied by an array of sensors for our specific aircraft:

  • 2 x DJI Mavic 2 Pro – Quadcopter with in-built 20mp camera
  • DJI Mavic 2 Duo Enterprise – Quadcopter with in-built thermal sensor and 12mp camera
  • DJI Phantom 4 PRO – Quadcopter with in-built 20mp camera
  • DJI Matrice M300 RTK – Quadcopter with attached thermal sensor and multispectral sensor
  • DJI Matrice M600 PRO – Hexacopter with attached LiDAR sensor

Mapping/Visualisation Capabilities

BMRG’s production capabilities reach far further than simple imagery and videography collection. The organization has licenses for a suite of mapping software, allowing us to achieve a range of solutions with data collected from our aircraft, such as:

  • Create interactive online maps, develop web mapping applications and dashboards, and share GIS content online.
  • Create simple thermal images and video to aid in feral pest and nest detection.
  • Create orthomosaics, 3D digital surface models, thermal maps and plant health index maps (NDVI, NDRE, TGI, VARI).
  • Create 3D point clouds and digital elevation models to measure change over time.

Project Involvement

Nest to Ocean

The program has trialled the use of remotely piloted aircraft (RPA) and thermal technology to assist in the location of fox dens to help mitigate against turtle nest predation. As RPAs can span a large area much quicker than teams on foot, identifying potential fox den locations helps reduce the time spent in the field. The Zenmuse XT2 thermal camera attached to our DJI Matrice 300 RTK RPA is used to evaluate differences between potential active fox dens with the surrounding surface ambient temperature.

White-Throated Snapping Turtle

RPAs are being utilised in this project to assist in identifying potential nests sites of this endangered species. The mission involved using a FLIR Duo Pro R thermal camera attached to the underside of our DJI Matrice 600 RPA to test if thermal technology could be used to detect potential nest sites within varying timeframes of being dug. The captured footage is then analysed and the locations of potential nest sites then given to the Department of Environment and Science (DES) staff for field validation. Once nests are positively identified by DES, the area can be prioritised for protection from predation and inundation from river rises due to dam water releases.

Protecting World Heritage Values (Saltmarsh Habitat and Marine Turtle Monitoring)

To support this project RPAs are being used to assess any incursion of livestock into significant areas of the Bustard Bay saltmarsh before, during and after the implementation of exclusion fencing. This has been done by capturing imagery over a defined area with our Mavic 2 Pro field RPA throughout the life of the project to evaluate changes in livestock tracks through salt marsh areas. These images are compared to determine the effectiveness of this exclusion fencing and to ensure this saltmarsh habitat is being protected from livestock damage and degradation.

RPAs have also been used to identify turtle nests laid prior to annual monitoring by community groups in Deepwater National Park area. Video of 22 kilometres of beach was recorded using our field RPA, looking for evidence of obvious turtle nesting activity within the previous month. This footage was then handed to the community turtle care group for analysis, helping provide information on overall turtle nesting numbers for that year.

Saving Soils

RPAs have been used to document the project demonstration sites before, during and after the gully remediation works. This has involved capturing aerial imagery and videography, and with further software processing using Pix4D Mapper, detailed terrain maps were produced for further analysis of these sites. The imagery can be captured by multiple RPAs within our fleet, after which these images are stitched together to create photo mosaics and three-dimensional models, allowing us to measure aspects within the captured landscape. The content produced from these flights has been used in instructional videos for other landholders looking to repeat similar processes to protect their land from further gully erosion, with more to come in the future.

GRASS

Recently, RPAs have been helping support this project by giving an aerial landscape perspective of sites targeted for infrastructure upgrades. Imagery and videos were collected over areas identified for improvement and used to inform landholders of current land condition and potential future management strategies. Using this technology to look at these landscapes for degradation assessment and potential areas for improvement saves time and effort, and allows for enhanced visual data to be quickly captured and evaluated.

Strait Expectations

RPAs were used in this project to provide information on selected restoration sites before, during and after restoration works. Imagery and videography captured by our Mavic 2 Pro field RPA prior to works beginning, was used to provide an aerial perspective on proposed plans for restoration, assisting project decision making. This technology allows for quick and simple flights to track changes over known projects areas and investigate areas which may otherwise be inaccessible.

Bunya Mountains Murri Ranger Program

The Bunya Mountain Murri Rangers have an RPA dedicated to their team to assist them in their daily missions to conserve the natural and cultural values of the National Park. Their Mavic Dual Enterprise aircraft is equipped with a high-quality camera, and an in-built thermal camera allowing the team to gain two perspectives on the landscape at one time. The thermal camera is particularly useful when keeping track of cool burns and personnel assisting these fire regimes within the Bunya Mountains region.

Mary River Recovery Project

RPAs are intended to be used for this project in the following activities:

  • Aerial photography using RPAS will be collected at various stages of the project to assist in decision making for restoration works and to assess during the life of the program.
  • LiDAR to be utilised to provide accurate digital elevation models of all erosion remediation sites. These models will be updated over time and compared to investigate changes in bank stability.

Discovery Coast Habitat Restoration Project

RPAs are intended to be used for this project in the following activities:

  • Vegetation surveys to be conducted using multispectral cameras mounted to RPAs, capturing near infrared (NIR) and red green blue (RGB) imagery, as well as mangrove cover to assess coastal plant cover baselines and changes.
  • LiDAR will provide baseline and post-excavation data on shoreline elevation to assess changes in shore bank parameters and stability. LiDAR will additionally be used to assess progress of the remediation works during the life of the project.
  • Potential for RPAs mounted with thermal imaging capabilities to be used in conjunction with fox detection teams to locate and fumigate active fox dens.

Burnett River Water Quality Project

RPAs are intended to be used for this project through the following methods:

  • Vegetation surveys to be conducted using aerial imagery and multispectral cameras mounted to RPAs, capturing NIR and RGB imagery as well as plant cover, to assess vegetation condition and cover baselines and changes.
  • Weed distribution surveys to be conducted using aerial photography, multispectral cameras and mapping to determine weed extent and distribution. This will allow rangers to prioritise certain areas of high priority for weed eradication.
  • LiDAR to be utilised to provide accurate digital elevation models of all erosion remediation sites. These models will be updated over time and compared to investigate changes in bank stability.
  • RPAs will be used to evaluate gully and streambank condition pre, during and post remediation works using the comparison of aerial photography captured over consistent areas.
  • RPAs to be included in stakeholder engagement events, through a training session about how drones can aid landholders in streambank stabilisation projects.

Key contact:

Kevin Bowden
GIS and Drone Program Manager, Chief Remote Pilot

P: 4181 2999 Ext 113
E: kevin.bowden@bmrg.org.au