Scott Kathey, coordinator for regulatory and emergency response for the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, offered this viewpoint May 4 of the scientific use of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) or drones over the sanctuary’s protected waters:
He wrote that the research permit issued by sanctuary staff to “Wayne Perryman’s team was carefully conditioned to avoid collateral disturbance to marine mammals and birds in the near-shore area where they will be operating.
“We worked with his team over several weeks to develop the permit in such a way that their research needs and our resource protection goals can be mutually assured.”
Also, the team “must follow FAA authorization guidelines for operation of his UAS. Those guidelines provide added assurance that the system is operated responsibly.
“However,” Kathey stressed, “unpermitted UAS operations remain a concern to MBNMS, particularly within MBNMS overflight restriction zones,” which “were designed to safeguard sensitive marine mammal and seabird habitat from motorized aerial disturbance of any kind.”
Within those zones, drone operation is “prohibited by federal regulation because UAS have unique capabilities to approach within very close proximity to rookeries and haul-out areas,” disturbing the wildlife.
Kathey wrote in an email interview that the drones “offer some positive alternatives to the use of traditional aircraft for marine research purposes,” often offering “a large cost savings, especially over time, for repeated survey work. In the current tight fiscal environment, UAS options may allow continued research at lower costs — research that might be cost-prohibitive using traditional aircraft.”
He explained, “UAS remove the human safety hazards of low-altitude manned flights and present a lower threat to the marine environment than traditional aircraft in the event of aircraft failure.” They also “allow for more time on-station to observe a subject than is available from a fixed-wing aircraft” that can’t hover in place.
“Since stationary flight for subject observation and study has only been available through use of manned helicopters in the past, the sound and rotor wash of the helicopter always presented a problem. It’s hard to study natural behavior if the wildlife under observation are altered by the observer’s presence.
“UAS quad and hexacopters offer many of the same capabilities of a traditional helicopter, but with (fewer) collateral impacts from physical size, sound and rotor wash.
“So, if UAS are operated by experienced and responsible pilots in a controlled environment under carefully crafted permit terms and conditions, they can provide a useful research tool for work in the sanctuary, with a minimum of collateral impacts.”
For more on the sanctuary’s policy, go to http:// montereybay.noaa.gov/resourcpro/resmanissues/ aircraft.html.