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NOAA Demonstrates Unmanned Aircraft System for Ocean Monitoring

Technician launches the UAS from HIHWNMS's vessel Koholā.
Technician launches the UAS from HIHWNMS's vessel Koholā. Photo: Paul Wong/NOAA

On June 20, 2012 NOAA conducted a demonstration of the PUMA Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) for use in ocean monitoring and environmental research. The at-sea demonstration involved several flights over the waters off the North Shore of Oʻahu using simulated marine life and marine debris for targets. The aircraft was launched from the HIHWNMS's vessel Koholā and also from a contract charter boat. Approximately thirty people from PMNM, HIHWNMS, HIMB, the state of Hawaiʻi, and other NOAA researchers, managers and partners observed the launch, flight and recovery of the UAS, while a monitor on the charter boat gave participants a real-time view of the UAS and associated data - such as speed, distance, location and height - taken by the aircraft as it tracked the vessels and props in the water. A test using satellite imagery was also performed to determine how these two technologies could complement each other in the search for marine debris.

UAS in flight.
UAS in flight. Photo: Paul Wong/NOAA

The at-sea demonstration was intended for managers to see the UAS in operation so they can better understand its capabilities and explore its potential to enhance management of Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument. On June 21, NOAA researchers, managers and partners gathered for a workshop to discuss potential management applications in detail. Possible uses include marine wildlife surveys for sea turtles, monk seals and seabirds as well as surveys to locate and identify marine debris. If successful, this type of technology could be used in other large-scale remote MPAs worldwide. Both the at-sea demonstration and follow-on workshop were funded through NOAA's UAS Program Office.

Click Here to view Press Release.

Click Here to view Photos.

See the following links to media coverage about the demonstration below:

1. Scientists to demonstrate use marine use of drones
Unmanned aircraft to track endangered species, marine debris

2. Mini Spy Planes Will Track Endangered Wildlife and Ocean Trash
Small unmanned planes are used as military spies elsewhere but NOAA has bought half a dozen for use over the remote Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. They'll help researchers track endangered wildlife and marine debris.

3. Unmanned aircraft to monitor animal population at Northwest Hawaiian Islands

For more information, contact David Swatland at

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