Aerial example of automated shorebird survey using an unmanned aerial vehicle and object detection © Joshua Wilson
Vulnerable Bar-tailed godwits, Oyster Point Cleveland, copyright 26-3-2017, Chris Walker
Vulnerable Bar-tailed godwits, Oyster Point Cleveland, copyright 26-3-2017, Chris Walker

The significance of Moreton Bay for migratory shorebirds is well known, along with the threats causing rapid decline. Better monitoring data will improve management actions, particularly information on low-tide distribution and abundance.

The Moreton Bay Foundation responded to this call and provided funding for the ‘Surveying Shorebirds in Moreton Bay using an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV)’ project. This project will deploy and test a shorebird monitoring system using UAVs (drones) to capture aerial imagery. The imagery can be automatically processed to determine bird abundance, resulting in an accurate, efficient, and practical method for recording low tide counts, and for reaching inaccessible areas and large flocks. It will require reduced volunteer effort, and cause minimal disturbance to birds, complementing the existing manual survey effort.

The project will also produce a best-practice guide to inform appropriate management regulations regarding the use of UAV’s where shorebirds are present.

Surveying Shorebirds’ is overseen by Professor Richard Fuller and implemented by Researcher Josh Wilson in a partnership between the University of Queensland, Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service, and the Queensland Wader Study Group.

It is anticipated that techniques developed through the Surveying Shorebirds UAV project will be transferable to other monitoring and survey programs across Moreton Bay – helping us better understand, protect and restore the unique habitats and biodiversity of Moreton Bay.