Counting Iguanas in the Galapagos with Drones

Discover how researchers are using drone orthomosaics to monitor iguanas and sea lions in Galapagos National Park.

Rebecca Lehman - Social Impact Program Manager, DroneDeploy
Rebecca Lehman
Jan 05, 2023
Counting Iguanas in the Galapagos with Drones

For two weeks, in November 2022, members from the Iguanas from Above project joined an forces with the Galapagos National Park (GNP) and Galapagos Science Center (GSC) to use drones to survey more than 30 colonies of marine iguanas and sea lions around the entire Galápagos Archipelago.

The wildlife in the Galápagos Archipelago is incredibly unique and without protection would be threatened from poaching and climate change. The team's main objective was to create a standardized protocol for monitoring and protecting the islands with drones in the most efficient way possible—and they used DroneDeploy to make it happen.

Two members from the expedition on the beach holding drones

Using drones, the team flew the same area that surveyors would typically monitor on land. They planned to compare aerial vs ground counts in an attempt to show the efficiency of using drones for surveying. Based on work soon to be published (Varela-Jaramillo et al.), the drone teams expected to obtain higher counts from drones as marine iguanas tend to hide less from the drones and tails are more visible from above.

The team found a wide diversity of the colonies in their research. This work will be important for identifying the best method to monitor a colony depending on the colonies characteristics.

For this, the team used DroneDeploy to collect the data autonomously. Over the following month of December, the images were analyzed on the platform to reconstruct the areas into geo-referenced 2D maps (orthomosaics) from where a group of students will then take a count of sea lions and marine iguanas over the months of January and February.

The Iguanas from Above team, GNP and GSC are starting an important collaboration with DroneDeploy to use drone mapping and reality capture tools for upcoming data collected in the future. The main goal of joining efforts is to gather accurate data to help protect the emblematic species living on this remarkable group of islands.

The Iguanas from Above team has a popular citizen science project on platform where images from fieldwork are uploaded and volunteers around the world are helping to count marine iguanas, other species and plastic objects remotely. Join and help them here!

Member of the team launching a drone from a motor boat at sea.

About the Author

Rebecca Lehman - Social Impact Program Manager, DroneDeploy
Rebecca Lehman
Social Impact Program Manager - DroneDeploy

Rebecca finds innovative ways to leverage technology in addressing social and environmental problems. At DroneDeploy she manages both the nonprofit and education programs. She works with nonprofits and social impact organizations to enable the power of mapping and new technology to reach those who need it most. She has a master's degree in Environmental Management from the Yale School of the Environment.