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Eco-Drone Expeditions
$1,150 raised
5% of $25k goal
17 contributors
0 days left
Ended Aug 30, 2014
Eco-Drone Expeditions is a swords-to-plowshares initiative to transform drone technologies to tropical conservation research. Eco-Drone Expeditions will be launched in collaboration with conservation research organizations in Central America ...

Eco-Drone Expeditions (EDX)

Tropical forests are essential components of our planet's life support system. Scientist have only begun to understand how these complex systems regulate global processes and sustain the biodiversity that provides us with so many benefits. But as we all know, time is of the essence. Rapidly declining habitat, biodiversity and natural resources require us to use all the creativity, innovation and technology at our disposal to advance scientific knowledge and protect these priceless systems.

Because tropical ecosystems span the poorest and most remote regions of the world, acquiring the necessary data for conservation research presents a special set of challenges, including limited physical access, funding and technical skills, resulting in a huge ecological data gap across the greatest biodiversity regions in the world.

Tropical Biodiversity Data Gap 2008

(modifed from Ben Collen, Mala Ram, Tara Zamin and Louise McRae, Institute of Zoology, Zoological Society of London, Regent's Park, London NW1 4RY, UK)

So, in order to gain deeper insights into the complexity of tropical ecosystems, necessary for developing sound conservation strategies, Eco-Drone Expeditions will transfer eco-drone based, geospatial data acquisition technologies and skills to conservation research organizations working to narrow this data gap.

EDX Central America 2014

Eco-Drone Expeditions will be launched in collaboration with conservation research organizations in Central America this summer. In each case, we will work with staff, scientists and students to acquire high resolution tropical forest ecological data, map fundamental habitat characteristics, develop ongoing workshops and document this summer's work and next year's follow up plans.

In Belize, we will prioritize data to support FCD's work to protect the scarlet macaw and mahogany trees, both of which are national treasures to Belize. In Honduras, we will work with OPWALL in Cusuco National Park to test the ability of eco-drones in detecting large mammals at canopy openings and tree dwelling monkeys and birds. 

We are looking for other tropical ecosystem monitoring and research projects in the region, including forest, sustainable agriculture, watershed and coastal studies. Please contact us if you would like to get started this summer with building capacity for eco-drone 
technologies to support your organization's research and
conservation efforts.

Chiquibul National Park, Belize

Friends for Conservation and Development (FCD)

FCD Belize has been setting the trend for effective and integrated protected areas management one day at a time. Understanding the complexities of management and realizing that decision making processes can be rather difficult, this organization has facilitated the strengthening of confidence and cooperation among neighboring countries and has promoted public outreach and awareness in adjacent communities where they are loved and respected, while helping to maintain a healthy and productive Chiquibul ecosystem."

The Chiquibul National Park (CNP) is Belize´s single largest protected area comprised of 285,937 acres (115,717 hectares) located in the heart of the Maya Mountains of Belize. The park abuts the Belize-Guatemala border and is flanked by eleven other protected areas. The CNP comprises 29% of the terrestrial conservation zone of the country, and represents nearly 5% of Belize´s land area. The park forms a part of a region highlighted as a world ´hotspot for species diversity´, and part of a tri-national bioregion forming the largest remaining contiguous block of tropical forest north of the Amazon.

Over 95% of the Chiquibul National Park is broadleaf forest comprised of 7 ecosystems. A total of 662 species of plants have been documented for the Chiquibul Forest, but this list is incomplete as new species are yet to be discovered. At least five plant species are considered of conservation concern. The fauna is also known insufficiently with 786 species recorded. The exuberant wildlife is unmatched including emblematic species such as the scarlet macaw, tody motmot, jaguar, tapir, Morelet’s crocodile and Juliani frog.

But the Chiquibul is threatened and FCD needs eco-drone technology to research and monitor these ecosystems and deter poachers from the constant pillaging of Belize’s jewel.

Cusuco National Park, Honduras

Operation Wallacia (OPWALL)

Operation Wallacea is an organization, funded by tuition fees, that runs a series of biological and conservation management research programs in remote locations across the world. These expeditions are designed with specific wildlife conservation aims in mind – from identifying areas needing protection, through to implementing and assessing conservation management programs.The Operation Wallacea programm provides the opportunity to consider science and conservation of local scale ecosystems from a global perspective.

Opwall Trust is unique in pioneering the concept of tying enterprise development and investment to contracts with the communities agreeing to alternative means of livelihood. These include forest and threatened species conservation contracts and fishing license replacement income to protect reef habitats. Once individuals or communities have a financial benefit in protecting their wildlife then the effects can be spectacular.

Cusuco National Park in north-western Honduras consists of 23,440ha of rare high altitude cloud forest within the Merendón Mountain range, which forms part of the Mesoamerican biodiversity hotspot. CNP is characterised by exceptional species richness and has been ranked in the top 100 most irreplaceable biodiversity hotspots, from over 173,000 protected areas. However, despite legal protection, CNP is a classic “paper park” eeand currently has no forest guards and thus no effective protection. CNP is increasingly suffering extensive deforestation, resulting in loss of habitat required for the maintenance of this biodiversity.

What We Need

If we reach our goal, the money will fully outfit us with everything we need to complete a full pilot project that includes a summer and winter visit to conduct at least one time series analysis. Once this is done we will publish our results and attend conferences, universities and publicize the work, so that the tropical conservation researchers around the world can learn about the advantages these tools can bring to their work. Meanwhile researchers who participate this summer will be practicing and transferring the skills they gain to their peers.

This is only the beginning, as we will return each year to follow up with this year's participants and add new project areas. If we don't reach our goal, we can still make this year's expeditions, but the closer we get, the better supplied we are to conduct a successful project that we can build upon. Donations in excess of our goal will be used to publicize the work when we return.

Airframes and parts

Fixed wing and multi-rotor airframes offer different advantages and limitations, so we will purchase one of each, as well as extra batteries and other parts in case we need to make repairs in the field.

Imaging Data Sensors

We will buy one regular digital still/video camera, one multi-spectral camera, and one thermal infrared camera, depending on the amount we raise.

Travel Expenses

I will travel from Washington DC to Honduras, then Belize. We also have other organizations in Guatemala and Belize who would like to participate, so will add these flights, depending on funds raised.

Post Processing Software

In order to use the imagery collected as geographic data, they must be geo-referenced. There are several software products (e.g. Pix4D, Ensomosaic, etc.) with varying accuracy, so we will purchase the most accurate we can afford, based on funding.

Remote Control Radios and Simulation Software

We will purchase extra remote control radios and simulation software licenses for trainees to practice with before they fly. Trainees will learn to fly with a 'buddy box' radio, which is connected to the trainer's radio, so he/she can take control at any time.

What You Get

Our perks have been designed to show that we can create more robust and less destructive markets by thinking globally about the products we purchase.

All of our perks will be provided on digital media or from products made only with sustainable forest materials. So, your donations will not only help to support tropical conservation research, but also to build a market based on ecological and economic sustainability!

The Impact

Besides the fact that tropical forests are simply amazing systems in their own right, their life supporting functions make them invaluable to every person on this planet. The data acquired so far have been critical in showing that the tropics host the planet's highest biodiversity and that species and habitats are under serious threat. 

Of course, we can't all be there to protect them, so we must rely upon people who have dedicated themselves to doing so...conservation researchers. But, those in tropical forests are often fighting an uphill battle because they simply don't have access to the tools that would allow their work to surpass the rate of tropical forest loss.

Conservation researchers have made great strides in advancing low cost drone technologies for environmental data acquisition in the developed world and a few tropical regions. But even the little funding and training required to get started pose challenges in tropical regions. Because few of these organizations can make an investment in an eco-drone before they know they can use it to collect their own data, it will take much longer to get this technology into their hands. But time really is of the essence, as ecosystems deteriorate, habitats disappear, and conservation crime runs out of control.

Eco-Drones represent proven technology that promises to put power into the hands of people who can affect real change.Placing Eco-Drone technologies into the hands of on the ground, tropical forest conservation researchers can support local efforts to gain knowledge that can balance the global economic pressures, which lack direct connections to the ecosystems they exploit.

Risks & Challenges

Just like manned aircraft, drones sometimes crash! While there is no one inside it to be injured, crashes and accidents on the ground can cause severe injuries, so the potential must be taken very seriously. From my very first day of on the job training, safety has been drummed into my head over and over again and it remains the number one priority for every flight.

As a member of the AMA, DC Drone User Group and DC RC Club, I have agreed to follow safety protocols for each. I will also conduct full risk assessment and mitigation reports for each project before any flights are executed, which can be downloaded from our website.


Nadine Trahan

Project Lead

I have spent 15 years applying well established and cutting edge mapping technologies (GIS, remote sensing, GPS, etc.) to interdisciplinary socio-environmental research. I received my BA in Geography from Massey University, New Zealand and MSc in Environmental Science from the University of Auckland, New Zealand. I began flying drones 4 years ago in the Columbia River Watershed in Oregon. The objective was to collect high resolution aerial photos in order to gain more insight into mountain stream habitat availability for salmon. We had successes and failures and learned many lessons. I want my experiences to support people who are dedicating their lives to protecting tropical ecosystems.

Over the past 15 years, I have volunteered my time in Costa Rica, Honduras, Colombia and Hispaniola, to share my skills in using Geographic Information Systems with conservation research scientists and students. My greatest reward for this has been knowing that the limited work I am able to do on my own, is still propagating through those I've shared my skills with.

Now, with over 4 years of flying eco-drones under my belt, I am ready to share my eco-drone building, flying and mapping skills and watch them spread.

Brenden Duffy - EDX  Technical Advisor

Brenden has in depth applied experience in geospatial technologies including GIS, GPS, remote sensing, and Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS). The knowledge and skills he's gained in working with Conservation Drones and as owner of Flight Riot have been invaluable in getting us up and running. He built our first fixed wing, Gypsy, and provides ongoing technical support to the campaign.

Unmanned Experts (UMEX)

UMEX is an independent team of highly motivated UAS experts with over 25,000 flying hours on UAS operations and programs. They are providing EDX with ongoing technical support, pilots and training where needed to help ensure the success of this project.

David Prall - EDX Technical Consultant, Pilot

David, our UMEX liason, has a background in the US Air Force and Law Enforcement, with hundreds of operational hours alone, Dave began building and flying RC helicopters and multirotor sUAS in 2010 and has been experimenting with vehicle, gimbal, and ground-station design as well as payload management ever since.

Friends of Conservation and Development

Rafael Manzanero - Executive Director

Rafael has been involved in conservation since 1986. He worked in wildlife conservation and environmental education with the Belize Zoo, Rare and the Forest Department. In 1989 he fouded FCD and is still leading the way forward in consolidating efforts in Belize for the protection of the Chiquibul/Maya Mountains Key Biodiversity Area. Due to his innovative management style and learning spirit, Rafael’s organization was awarded in 2007 the Environmental Organization Year Award by the Belize Tourism Board, and the Co-Manager of the Year Award by the Forest Department.

Derric Chan - Chiquibul National Park Manager

Derric Chan began his work in protected areas management at the Belize Audubon Society in 1993. He initially joined FCD in 1989 as a student volunteer, progressed to Beilize Riverkeeper, wored on various bi-national technical projects and has been manager of Chiquibul since 2007.

Boris Miguel Arevalo - Forest Ecologist

Boris a biologist and tropical forest ecologist, with 10 years of experience in applied natural resource management research. He has a Bachelors degree in Biology from the University of Belize, Belize and a Masters’ of Science in Management and Conservation of Tropical Forests and Biodiversity from the Centro Agronómico Tropical de Investigación y Enseñanza (CATIE), Costa Rica.  His Masters’ thesis was titled “The influence of habitat complexity and landscape context on the biodiversity conservation value of cacao agroforests in Waslala, Nicaragua,” which work allowed him to graduate with honors.  Since 2011, he has been acting as Biologist and research coordinator for Friends for Conservation and Development (FCD), where he is spearheading scientific research in trying to understand how legal and illegal anthropogenic activities are impacting the Chiquibul Forest’s biodiversity and related implications on biodiversity conservation.  His areas of research also focus on the national economical value of natural resources by quantifying the financial losses due to the illegal extraction of timber and non-timber forest products.

Operation Wallacea

Merlijn Jocque - Stream Ecologist

Merlijn is a senior on-site freshwater biologist in Cusuco, where he coordinates research on aquatic animal communities in bromeliads and rivers. One of his most important research topics is the role of endangered tree frogs in a cloud forest ecosystem, and the extinction threat posed by the amphibian chytrid fungus.

What Can We Do For Tropical Forests?

Now that you know what tropical forests do for us, how conservation researchers are working to ensure they continue doing so and the challenges they face, it's time to ask what can we do for tropical forests?

Please support this campaign in any way you can. There is no minimum donation because every person on this planet can benefit and every dollar adds up and we get strength from the number of supporters, not just $$$. So, give heaps if you can or just a few bucks to show that you are with us. And while the campaign is going for 60 days, we desperately need you to make your contributions as soon as possible to help us get this project off the ground...literally!

If you work for a company that directy sells any kind of tropical forest resources, ask them to set an example of what a sustainable economic system looks like by supporting this campaign to outfit the keepers who are working to foster the sustainability of these products and services with bottom-up research, protection and community engagement.

If you represent any company that might like us to test their sensors or any relevant products, or offer any kind of matching donation, we will place their logo on our website as supporters.

If you have any skills that would support the project, such as data processing, drone building & flying, web and graphic design, mapping and analysis, etc. we can use more hands, just contact us.

If you reprsent an organization in Central America and want to talk about us dropping by for a demo, get in touch.

And very importantly, please do not stop if we reach our goal before the deadline because every dollar after that will go directly toward getting the word out for the next phase, adding new expeditions and following up with each of the organizations as they develop their own eco-drone monitoring programs.

And most importantly, please help us get the word out by sharing with your online and offline circles, as awareness is just as important as funding! So please, use a share button every time you visit our campaign.


Video Music: "Quasi Motion" by Kevin MacLeod (

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$10 USD
Gratitude & Recognition!
  • 0 claimed
All donations of $1 or more receive our deepest gratitude, our updates, recognition as supporter on our Blog and knowledge of exactly what you are doing to help protect tropical forests!
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$25 USD
  • 3 claimed
Estimated delivery Oct 2014
An Eco-Drone Expeditions 4.5 x 6.25 postcard with a photograph with that awesome eco-drone perspective of Chiquibul or Cusuco...and inclusion on our Blog as a supporter!
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$50 USD
Digital Photo Journal
  • 5 claimed
Estimated delivery Oct 2014
An Eco-Drone Expeditions photo journal with our daily adventures, specially selected eco-drone images and video and the ecological information they provide. This is a high resolution, 40 page, digital book. We will send you a link to download.
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$75 USD
Digital Journal and Signature Print
  • 0 claimed
Estimated delivery Jun 2015
An Eco-Drone Expeditions photo journal with our daily adventures, specially selected eco-drone images and video and the ecological information they provide. This is a high resolution, 40 page, digital book. We will send you a link to download. You also get a 5 x 7 ready to frame signature print on sustainable forest products.

Add $5 to ship outside the US
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$100 USD
Soft Cover Photo Journal
  • 1 claimed
Estimated delivery Oct 2014
An Eco-Drone Expeditions photo journal with our daily stories, specially selected eco-drone images and the ecological information they provide. This is a 5.5 x 5.5, 40 page, softcover book printed on tropical forest friendly paper.

Add $20 to ship outside the US
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$250 USD
Hardcover Photo Journal
  • 1 claimed
Estimated delivery Jun 2015
An Eco-Drone Expeditions photo journal with our daily stories, specially selected eco-drone images and the ecological information they provide. This is a 8.5 x 11 or 8.5 x 8.5, 50 page, hardcover book printed on sustainable forest products.

Add $35 to ship outside the US
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$500 USD
Eco-Drone Expeditions Atlas
  • 0 claimed
The first in the series of our Eco-Drone Expeditions Atlas. This will be an awesome coffee table book with maps of data collected, amazing eco-drone imagery, the ecological information they provide and excerpts from the journal. this is a 50 page, (8.8 x 8.5 or 8.5 x 11, hard cover book, printed on tropical forest friendly paper.
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$1,000 USD
Eco-Drone Consulting Services
  • 0 claimed
Estimated delivery Oct 2014
Want to build or by, fly, acquire and process data and conduct spatial analysis with eco-drones to support your own project(s)? With this contribution, I will provide you with consulting services to help you get going. Take advantage of my skills and the many lessons I have learned along the way to get your project up and running much more smoothly than starting from scratch! Please drop me an email to develop a plan.
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