What is the context of this research?
Currently, the collection of data on salmon redds is incomplete. Foot surveys are only done in short reaches, and by plane or helicopter, surveying is expensive and dangerous. Accurate redd surveys give researchers a more complete understanding of salmon population health. They also help to quantify habitat restoration efforts and to set accurate fishing quotas.
It has already been demonstrated that UAVs can replace planes and helicopters for surveying larger, open rivers. In creeks, aerial surveys are impossible with a manned-plane or helicopter. A healthy salmon-bearing creek will have almost total canopy cover over it, as salmon prefer colder waters. We want to test small UAVs in their ability to accurately survey redds by flying over the creek below the canopy layer.
What is the significance of this project?
Salmon are threatened on many fronts. And Salmon play a crucial role here in the Pacific Northwest bioregion and elsewhere. They are food for many sea-life, land animals, fungi, and humans. They are an essential part of the maritime economy. You can even correlate historically-large salmon runs with the size of tree rings! There is ample evidence to show that we need to be doing more to help restore native salmon populations and habitat.
Accurate redd counts are essential to setting sustainable fishing quotas and doing more efficient restoration work.
Imagine if we could survey 100x or 1000x more salmon-bearing habitat? The larger the the surveyed area, the better our understanding of salmon spawning will be, and in turn, the better our management practices will become.
What are the goals of the project?
We would like to experiment on a range of creeks in Washington State, including creeks that are currently being surveyed on foot so we can compare data collection methods. We would also like to survey remote locations that have never been surveyed before. Because UAVs are already being used to survey larger rivers, we will focus on smaller creeks.
We believe that UAVs will give researchers more time to analyze and interpret data instead of collecting it or managing the people who do.
Our final report will include comparisons between our data and traditional survey methods, a discussion about the limitations of current UAV technology, and recommendations we have for other researcher looking to use UAVs for aerial surveys. All of this information will be open-access and available online.