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Studying dugongs from the sky

Drones could fast-track how scientists collect data on one of the most elusive marine mammals in the Great Barrier Reef.

Dr. Chris Cleguer is trialling the technology to search for dugongs in a known hotspot just off Townsville at Cleveland Bay, recording more than 55 kilometers of dugong habitats rich with seagrass meadows.

The trials tested the feasibility of conducting a vessel-based drone survey in the inshore waters of Cleveland Bay with the ultimate goal of gaining a better understanding of the dugongs’ dynamic habitat use in the area.

“We know Cleveland Bay is one of the most important dugong hotspots in the Great Barrier Reef, but these animals are notoriously difficult to study, and we know little about how dugongs use the Bay,” he said.

“New technologies such as drones and aerial imagery have the potential to be a complete game-changer in how we try to safely and cost-effectively unveil how dugongs use the area.”

Cleguer is also teaming up with Dr. Fredrik Christiansen from Aarhus Institute of Advanced Studies (Denmark) to develop a method to use drone imagery to assess the body condition of dugongs. This research is looking at how to enhance the capacity to assess the condition of dugong populations.


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