16 Jan

3 projects using drones for aerial monitoring of wetlands

Wetlands are valuable ecosystems found across our landscapes from estuarine to alpine areas. They are receiving increasing attention as we manage our freshwater and coastal resources more intensively.

The trouble is, wetlands can be difficult to monitor due to accessibility. But now using aerial drones, we can monitor biodiversity values and biosecurity issues from an aerial perspective.

Aerial drones are now accepted as part of the toolbox for monitoring all sorts of projects efficiently and effectively. Drones are most commonly used to create aerial photography and orthomosaic images, but have an increasing list of abilities to provide data and services from the air. They provide a method to accurately monitor changes in natural features over time, and a cost-effective tool to understand the requirements and priorities for management.

Three aerial surveys that Flightworks has recently undertaken show some of these applications for aerial drone monitoring of wetlands.

Vegetation type mapping – Otakairangi wetland
Aerial monitoring – Whangamarino wetland
Restoration planning – Kaituna wetland


Vegetation type mapping – Otakairangi wetland

The Department of Conservation manage the 265ha Otakairangi Wildlife Management Reserve north-west of Whangarei. It is a remnant peat bog wetland with a mosaic of native and weedy vegetation types. To help with restoration management of the wetland Flightworks was contracted to provide a high-resolution aerial image, and then define the broad vegetation types and weed locations across the wetland. The image below shows the GIS map layers of the project: orthomosaic (with reserve boundary), vegetation types and weed locations.

“The Flightworks team provided a great service for the project in Otakairangi including a comprehensive vegetation type analysis and interactive point cloud of the wetland reserve. Flightworks were extremely professional in executing the required work through their extensive ecological knowledge and aerial photograph/mapping skills backed up by a strong emphasis on Health & Safety.  The team were flexible and happy to devote time to understand the scope of the project thus producing a comprehensive report and associated aerial photography meeting the contract requirements”

— Ben Herbert (Ranger, Operations – Biodiversity), Department of Conservation


Aerial monitoring – Whangamarino wetland

As part of the resource consent for a river weir at Whangamarino wetland, the Department of Conservation is required to take aerial photographs at fixed points, which are then analysed to identify changes over time in vegetation composition and channel encroachment. Flightworks provided the aerial photography and mapping services at several sites throughout the wetland. The orthomosaic of the Whangamarino River area below is zoomable, and shows the clarity of image resolution at 3.4cm/pixel compared to the background Google Earth imagery. Images like this can be created with finer resolution according to needs.

“The team at Flightworks were wonderful, working closely with us to fully understand the scope of the work and to overcome any logistical challenges the work or the wetland created. I was especially impressed with the level of communication throughout the project, which made working with the Flightworks team very easy. They provided a highly professional service, fully meeting the requirements of the aerial photography contract including providing an excellent field report at the end of the project.”

– Lucy Roberts (Supervisor, Biodiversity), Department of Conservation Waikato


Restoration planning – Kaituna wetland

The Bay of Plenty Regional Council are planning the re-creation of freshwater wetland to extend the Kaituna wetland. Flightworks was hired to provide a high resolution orthomosaic to help with the planning for the restoration, and to create a benchmark to monitor progress of the project. Oblique aerial photos provided a variety of aerial perspectives, and a 3d point cloud model of the wetland enabled a virtual fly-through to help provide an overview of the project area. View a video of a fly-through of the wetland below.

“BOPRC engaged Flightworks to take high-resolution aerial photographs of 280 ha of the Lower Kaituna Wildlife Management Reserve and adjacent areas and to create an orthomosaic and point cloud. Despite problems with the weather Flightworks completed the work to a good standard and the final product is very useful as a management and planning tool for wetland development and restoration.”

– Hamish Dean, Land Management Officer, Bay of Plenty Regional Council


Talk to us

At Flightworks, we use aerial drones as a revolutionary tool to complement our expertise as ecologists.

Call me (Hamish) on 07 394 4394 if you have any questions about this article, or contact us if you’d like to discuss your project requirements.