Monday, May 19, 2008

Eyes in the sky...

It is not that often that you get a chance to do research from a helicopter. So, when I got the call that a local businessman offered to donate a nice block of flight hours in his new turbine-powered helicopter and personally fly us around the East End to do some seagrass survey work, you didn’t have to ask me twice. My answer was “Great, when can we start!” Luckily, the reply was “What are you doing tomorrow afternoon?”

The effort has been tentatively called “Flying LEAP” for the Long-island Eelgrass Assessment Program…our businessman-pilot is used to dealing with the military, so a catchy acronym is a must.

Although everyone knows that aerial surveys are THE way to go when trying to map and run trends analysis data for eelgrass meadows the lack of public dollars and bureaucratic momentum means that this is often not possible. In this day of satellite imagery and every other new fangled means of remote sensing you would think it could be done form our desk. Maybe it can if you are with the US Defense Department but for us lowly civilians it’s just not going to happen.

Take the Peconic Estuary as an example. We were involved with a fixed wing aerial survey and ground truthing effort dating back to 2001. This was the first and last time this was done for the region; pitiful, but true. Now Google Earth and Microsoft Live Search Maps make things a little easier, but there is only so much you can do with existing photo sets which were clearly not acquired for the purposes of mapping seagrasses. I’m not complaining mind you, just stating a fact.

If we could go where we want, when we want (times of good water clarity, low tide, low wind and low sun angle) then we can really capture some great images. This is where our friend and his helicopter come in…

Over the last couple weeks we have been running flights over various parts of the Island, photographing existing meadows, current restoration sites and scouting for new restoration sites. We typically run with three cameras, one video and two still in most cases, to catch all the action. Through this effort we have found entirely new areas of grass that were unknown to us as well as gotten a “bird’s eye view” of our restoration sites around the Island. There is no substitute for seeing the grass from above with your own eyes.

Our flights over Shinnecock and Moriches Bays were especially productive as we had an absolutely PERFECT day with a low tide, no wind and great water clarity. It seemed like we could almost see fish in the grass. We are excited to follow up on these observations and get out in a boat and visit some of these interesting areas.

It is hoped that we can continue this work into the summer and fall, especially when the water is clear. We have already learned so much and would like to continue…plus, it beats any day in the office!

Thanks again, friend, and fly safe!


1 comment:

Theresa said...


Great job on this blog! What a great idea to keep everyone updated.

Theresa, PEP