Duke researchers from the Nicholas School of the Environment’s marine lab recently won funding for a project that will help the Department of Defense (DoD) use drones to improve land management practices. The Marine Robotics & Remote Sensing Lab specializes in the use of drones, also known as Unmanned Aviation Vehicles (UAVs), to inform marine science and conservation. From counting grey seals in Canada to mapping the North Carolina coast before and after hurricanes, the applications for UAVs are myriad.

For this newest project, researchers at Duke received nearly $1 million from the U.S. DoD to understand how commercial drones with high-resolution imaging can help land managers monitor the effects of storm erosion, amphibious training, and prescribed burns on training facilities along the coast. In particular, the project aims to help integrate UAVs into monitoring practices at Camp Lejeune’s Onslow Beach, a key training area for marines. David Johnston, director of the lab, described how the research and training provided through the project will help “develop the protocols to help balance policies regulating UAS use and provides a clear transition plan to facilitate use across DoD land assets.”

Johnston’s team of Duke researchers will conduct the research in partnership with UNC’s Institute of Marine Science, Croatan National Forest, and Attollo LLC, a veteran-owned company with experienced drone pilots. Leveraging research findings, the private-public partnership will ultimately focus on “technology transition” – providing equipment, training and protocol development to land managers at Camp LeJeune.

For more information on the project, check out this in-depth article from Coastal Review Online.