C+S December 2020 Vol. 6 Issue 12 (web)

Use of drones and other technologies in wetland delineation work is rising. Technology affords greater speed and accuracy at a time that is- sues like fluctuating regulations and the impacts of climate change are making wetland delineations more complex. And growing recognition of the importance of wetlands as valuable climate mitigation assets adds urgency to this work; protecting wetlands is a burgeoning part of the carbon offsets industry and will likely be a significant driver in wetland science job creation in years to come. But finding solutions to the complex challenges facing wetlands (and indeed, the world), takes far more than technology. Making this tech- nology more accessible to a gender diverse array of workers that are moving into industries like engineering and wetlands is also critically important. Women are frequently left out of media portraying drone pilots, one article noted. According to Microsoft, as reported on the site Women and Drones, women who had “STEM role models are 1.4 times more likely to pursue opportunities within these fields, yet only 40 percent of girls [currently] say they have a role model in STEM. If we want to see more girls in STEM, it’s OUR responsibility to inspire them.” Jeremy Schewe, PWS, Ecobot’s Chief Scientific Officer, invited two drone pilots into a discussion on the gender diversity gap in the pilot- ing of drones for wetland fieldwork. Caitlin Burke is an Ecologist at Resource Environmental Solutions. Kelly Brezovar is a Professional Wetland Scientist, Environmental Team Lead and Senior Environmen- tal Scientist at Hollaway Environmental + Communication Services. How are drones used in the wetland delineation process? Kelly Brezovar: We use drones for doing preliminary assessments for wetlands, and occasionally for evaluating bird nests. Drones give us a birds-eye view of the property. We do our wetland planning and our work planning based on what we see aerially. It makes the process more efficient. We also use it for public involvement to track project progress. We fly the drone over a project, see where it’s at, and then overlay those layers to show what we’ve accomplished in nine months. The footage provides a great visual representation of our efforts. Caitlin Burke: We’re not at the point where drones are delineating the wetlands for us – which is good for job security – but I'm using it to supplement my reports. You can see a general demarcation of the wetland boundary using the aerial imagery and videos captured by the drone. Especially on large sites, it’s helpful to have that imagery once Unwomanned Systems in Wetland Delineations Women Drone Pilots Take Flight in Burgeoning Wetland Delineation Work By Jeremy Schewe, PWS with Caitlin Burke and Kelly Brezovar, PWS

you’re back in the office and get a general sense of where that bound- ary is. It helps me zero in on places to take data points. How has field work evolved since you have been in this industry, and what role does technology play in that evolution? Kelly Brezovar: When I first started doing delineations, everything was done by hand. We would measure distances by counting our foot- steps. As the biologist, I would be taking notes and a colleague would follow me around with a very cumbersome GPS system. Now we have wetland delineation software like Ecobot to enter and store our datapoints, which both improves efficiency and reduces er- rors, as well as drones which help familiarize us with the topography of the land. Earlier drones would merely take images from above, which meant the areas weren’t properly georeferenced. We had to put markers on the areas we were surveying so we could properly georeference them once we got back to the office. Now we have drones that can connect to the internet, satellites, and can properly georeference the data points and images. We recently completed a seagrass survey using the drone. I was able to pop it up in the air, have it looking directly down and taking snaps along pre-planned transects . We were able to patch together a very accurate, real-time aerial map of what was there. Before drones, we would have been in a boat, in waist-deep water, walking around and holding a GPS unit in the air making every effort not to fall and destroy the unit. Drones save us a lot of time and effort. Caitlin Burke: When I first started in this industry, we didn’t have drones – at least at my company – but we did have a way to capture aerial photography. One of the owners of our company was a pilot and he would fly his personal airplane over our project sites and another coworker would lean his camera out the window and take pictures of our project sites. They would have to set a whole day aside and hit ev- ery project site on that trip. Now you take the drone with you and you can grab better and more accurate imagery in a much shorter amount of time.



december 2020

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