Fisheries Conservation Drones in Belize

Date: June 6, 2014

Contributed by Jose Sanchez, Wildlife Conservation Society

The Fisheries Department is modernizing. Today it received technology to monitor the waters and to better fight illegal activities at sea. After receiving training from Conservation Drones, the officers attached to the Compliance Unit of the department are ready to put to use two operating drones and two test drones. The equipment was handed over to Fisheries Administrator, Beverly Wade. Jose Sanchez of Wildlife Conservation Society collaborated with News Five Belize on the following report.

Jose Sanchez: The Fisheries Department has literally shifted its focus from the seas to the skies in a bold move to increase the capacity of its officers on the sea. Conservation drones are about to be installed as one of the department’s tools against illegal activities.

Calman Hall, Coxswain, Acting Prosecutor: “I see myself building my capacity in whatever and this will help me to help present some of our cases in court because I know firsthand how these things work. I can help better present our case.”

Mike Sabal, Chief Coxwain, Fisheries Department: “I’m the Senior Boat Captain in the Fisheries Department. I’m out here to learn to fly the drones because what the Fisheries Department is doing shortly is economizing and minimizing on fuel. When the drones go out to spots, we don’t really have to go by boat until we see something going on and move on our operations.”

During the week, the Conservation Compliance Unit received training from trainers of Conservation Drones.

Joseph Douglas, Conservation Drones: “The final goal is to have these guys able to fly automatic missions from start to finish they should be able to send the plane up, tell it where to go in a ten mile radius with different waypoints and different GPS coordinates. They are going to go out and they are going to monitor these areas with video. The first day they are very attentive and they pick up everything all the pre-flight checklist that you need to do. All the stuff that’s boring but you got to make sure you’re oriented in detail and make sure you get it done right, so once it goes up in the air you don’t have any trouble with little things that result in a crash. Yesterday we did all that and they did great. Today we came out and everything we did yesterday they put it together really quick, no issues.”

Assembly of a drone is done in minutes, and the officers were also quick to learn the software.

Maurice Westby, Conservation Compliance Unit: “This is the software that we are using. This tells you everything you need to know about the drone: balancing, the altitude you are, the speed you are going, the distance up, where the drone is. This little red marker right here shows you where it is. This is what you use to navigate, this tells you that the drone is level, you zero in, this is the altitude, we are on the ground now so this is the ground level, all of these things shows you the distance that you’re up. This shows you the speed that you are going, well it is stationary now. It gives you the GPS that you’re on. This is 3D Fix so the drone is prepared to fly.”

And the drones do fly.

Jose Sanchez: “The specifics of flight time. The height that it can reach or how low can it fly?”

Joseph Douglas: “Flight time is going to be about 80 minutes which is really good for these planes, the altitude, you can go pretty high, comfortably 400 meters and generally when you are flying with video you only want 120 meters for good video quality. So that is the main goal.

Jose Sanchez: “In terms of the range?”

Joseph Douglas: “The range is ten miles telemetry range, which is the computer range where it can still communicate with plane and the actual radio control range is more in the 1 mile range. At that point you don’t have a visual on your plane so you don’t need to be controlling it, it should be automatic once you get out of that range. There are 6 different modes and one is: return to launch. Anytime you put it in that mode it’s going to go to a specific altitude, usually a hundred meters and its going to head back to the point where you powered the plane and its going circle that point. So at any point you can put it in return to launch and it will come back to you.”

After the Fisheries officers prepare their case files, the Acting Prosecutor for the department, Calman Hall, would then take the evidence and the accused to the Magistrate Court.

Jose Sanchez:“With the drones and the addition of GoPro cameras, how do you see that playing an effective roll in your job as Acting Prosecutor for the Fisheries Department?

Calman Hall: “Well that will give us more leverage where we have more secure evidence when we go to present a case. It’s not just you can take just any evidence and present it to the court, but with that (GoPro video) where you are actually on the ground, they can see you doing this illegal activity in this certain area. Sometimes you have many of them going to court and they say I was not there; I was not at this point. Now with the drones and the camera when they do their flyover, with this caught on the camera then there is no way they can say that is was not them and say they are not in the area and did not have this type of sea product.”

At the end of the successful week long training, today two fully operating drones and two test drones were handed over to Fisheries Administrator, Beverly Wade.

Beverly Wade, Fisheries Administrator: “Over the years we have enjoyed and benefited from a very strategic partnership with the Wildlife Conservation Society and they have worked with the Fisheries Department to promote sustainable fisheries in Belize. One of the things that we have grappled with over time is the high cost of enforcement activities. We have a very immense coastline. We have been looking at new innovative approaches to enforcement in Belize. One of the things that Wildlife Conservation Society has now partnered with the Fisheries Department with is for us to now introduce new technologies to enforcement. Today we are very fortunate to have the handing over of 4 drones to the department through Wildlife Conservation Society. This will now allow us to become more effective, more efficient with our enforcement activities. So rather than launching patrols to cover an entire area it allows us to see what is happening out there and have more direct responses, and at the same time it allows us to now be more efficient with our resources that is allocated to us through our budgetary processes. It costs roughly around four thousand Belize dollars and with equipment and the training that we now have been doing this week with our personnel through the assistance of it costs roughly around six thousand dollars per unit. So what we have benefited from is a sizeable donation plus or minus twenty thousand dollars from W.C.S. If we have compliance of our Fisheries laws it means that our resources will now have a greater chance of being utilized sustainably and now for us to continue to make efforts, great strides in conservation and sustainable use.”

The applications for the drones are endless. They can be used to monitor manatees and also in mapping of areas.

For video of story click link here.