Elizabeth City State University’s drone technology team is partnering with the Audubon Society to survey Pine Island in the Currituck Sound, along North Carolina’s Outer Banks. Using the university’s drones, experts and program students, surveys of the island’s flora will begin this spring, according to the dean of the school of science, aviation, health and technology, Dr. Kuldeep Rawat.

“The goal of this ECSU-led effort is to provide baseline data and analysis to inform marsh restoration planning and design led by Audubon North Carolina,” said Dr. Rawat.

The NC Policy Collaboratory, based on the campus of UNC-Chapel Hill, has provided $25,000 in funding to support the project.

According to Dr. Rawat, the ECSU research team will conduct pilot projects to monitor and assess estuary shoreline change over the course of time in the Currituck Sound. The project will also map Pine Island’s marsh vegetation.

“This partnership will increase ECSU-led activities on the use of drones for conservation research,” said Dr. Rawat, who is also the project’s principle investigator. “The partnership will also afford ECSU students the opportunity to engage in faculty-led research and internships with the Audubon Society.”

The mapping of environmentally sensitive areas is essential for natural resource management. While traditional field survey work can be utilized, said Dr. Rawat, advancement in drone technology in conservation work has made surveying more cost-effective.

“So remote sensing using drones is being advocated as an approach as it can characterize an ecosystem in an efficient, systematic manner,” said Dr. Rawat.

The ECSU team will utilize low-altitude drone flights with various technology such as near-infrared and thermal infrared imaging software, and more. The team will begin work on the yearlong project with Audubon scientists to map the island beginning sometime in March, according to Dr. Rawat.

The ECSU team consists of Dr. Rawat, co-investigator Jinchun Yuan, faculty researcher Chandra Asthana, drone pilots Aron Bechiom and Elton Stone, and two undergraduate students.

ECSU’s drone degree program launched in the fall of 2019. There are hundreds of career opportunities for ECSU students who graduate with a degree in drone technology.

ECSU’s role in assisting communities across Northeastern North Carolina is just one example of what is possible for these students and their futures.

Read more about ECSU research and innovation.