**This blog entry orginally appeared on the website oceanspaces.org.**/p>
All of us have probably seen it, that small plane flying low, whizzing by just off the coast. “What a view they are getting” I think to myself whenever I see this. Besides a pretty view, small planes can also be a useful resource for coastal conservation. photo: The Bay Foundation scientist carrying out a marine vessel survey, by Lee Pagni, LightHawk
The satellite images on Google Maps are simply amazing. But sometimes we need a view that is closer, more up to date, and whose extent isn’t limited to a 24” monitor. Fortunately, conservationists in California (and across the U.S.) have access to small planes to assist them in their conservation efforts. Whether your goal is to count birds or ships, photograph pristine waters or polluted runoff, or show your project to the press or decision makers, LightHawk, a small non-profit can help. We have a corps of about 200 volunteer pilots who donate their time, expertise, aircraft, and all expenses (including fuel) to help conservationists achieve their goals. Celebrating its 35th year, LightHawk works with hundreds of non-profit organizations each year to improve their conservation efforts.
photo: kelp restoration site in Palos Verdes, by Lee Pagni, LightHawk
Here are three examples of LightHawk projects that support data collection for citizen science efforts:
LightHawk flights provide The Bay Foundation with important spatial information about vessels and Marine Protected Areas. Since 2008, The Bay Foundation (formerly, Santa Monica Bay Restoration Foundation) and LightHawk have partnered to regularly collect data on vessel usage in relation to MPAs. The Bay Foundation uses trained spotters to identify, count, and geo-locate vessels in state waters from Mexico to Pt. Conception. These data allow managers to see how fishing pressure has shifted since the implementation of the South Coast MPAs, current trends in recreational and commercial fishing, and possibly show enforcement officials patterns of infractions that need to be addressed.
Read more in our story The Surprising Way Airplanes Help Whales.
Although not coastal, our work with Mono Lake Committee represents what collaborative citizen science can do. To track numbers of eared grebes staging at Mono Lake during their migration each year, Canadian biologist Dr. Sean Boyd enlisted the help of the Mono Lake Committee (MLC). MLC in turn partnered with LightHawk to fly transects over the lake so that volunteers could take high-resolution photos of the birds on Mono Lake, and send the results to Dr. Boyd for analysis. Six years of surveys confirmed that Mono Lake is the most important fall staging site for eared grebes in North America, supporting roughly 30% of the entire continent’s population. A detailed and precise, yet relatively simple protocol was important to the success of this effort.
Read more about this project from The Mono Lake Committee
Our partners at Santa Barbara Channelkeeper (SBCK) utilize flights to help determine compliance with state water quality regulations. In 2011, they monitored an industrial site in the Ventura River watershed. An earlier LightHawk flight yielded helpful information about the extent and types of activities occurring at this site and SBCK was able to use the information to advocate for strengthening the Regional Water Quality Control Board permits. One result of that process was the ban on construction activities during the rainy season, which this flight allowed them to monitor. Earlier monitoring found stormwater runoff from the facility to be highly contaminated with fine sediment, which can threaten and destroy critical habitat for endangered steelhead trout. The flight was filmed to feature their work with LightHawk on their video blog series “Watchdog Diaries”. After the flight, SBCK mentioned that the company learned of SBCK’s monitoring through the video and have been forthcoming and positive about complying with water quality regulations.