This year, the Fisheries Department has been making news with some high profile busts of illegal product, form lobster and conch to sea cucumber. Policing the country's coastline, however, is not an easy task, and it is also very expensive because of fuel costs.
In their effort to become more efficient, and the Department is now employing high-tech aerial drones to help with maritime enforcement. The media was invited to the unveiling of these state of the art aircraft which will now be their eyes over the water.
Daniel Ortiz reports:
Daniel Ortiz reporting
It might look like just a remote controlled plane, but this sophisticated new toy for the Fisheries Department is a drone.
It is supposed to be the Department's new means of policing Belize's waters in trying to detect illicit activities.
Beverly Wade - Fisheries Administrator
"Over the years we've enjoyed and benefitted from a very strategic partnership with the wildlife conservation society and they have work with the fisheries department to promote sustainable fisheries in Belize. One of the things that we have grappled with over time is the high cost of enforcement activities and we have a very immense coastline and we have been looking at new ways, new innovative approaches through enforcement in Belize."
And that's where the drone comes in. Each is controlled by a computer, which maps its coordinates and sets out its flight plan. Each drone is then able to take a carefully chosen path. It provides surveillance by capturing video footage taken along its flight, a very cost effective and efficient means of policing presence for the fisheries Officers.
Joseph Douglas - Representative, Conservation Drones.Org
"It is powered by lithium batteries and its cruise speed is about 14 meters per second. It can travel faster but we prefer slower speeds so we can capture good video. First of all its 1080p action cameras, it takes great videos and there are 2 cameras on the plane; one facing about a 45 degree on the nose and one facing directly down. As far as how sturdy of how protective they are, they are in a case, but I imagine touch crashes could result in damage to them."
"In terms of video that is captured, is it fed directly back to the computer or is it stored on a device?"
"The camera stores the video on a SD card in the camera itself. The main computer which allows it to go automatic way points and that's accompanied with a GPS, so you can actually put in whatever coordinate you want and the plane will fly to it. You put in the auto and from there you just fit a motor that was efficient as well as powerful enough to fly at the speeds we want and keep the plane stable. What we can do with it is setup a bunch of way points or decides a certain area that we want to capture and video. If you decide a certain area then it will automatically generate the way points that it should fly to, to capture that area. The goal is to find the area you want, send it up and then it's going to capture all the video you need and then it's going to come right back to you."
"Basically it's like us having a camera in the air, eyes in the air, giving us a view of activities that are happening out there and allowing us to be a little bit more strategic with our response. Rather than launching patrols to cover an entire area, it allowed us to see what is happening out there and have more directed responses and at the same time it allows us to now be more efficient without resources that is allocated to us through our budgetary processes."
The cost of each drone, plus the cost to train Fisheries personnel to operate them, is $6,000 Belize dollars. These drones have been made possible through the collaboration of the World Conservation Society and Fisheries.
Fisheries Use Drones for Monitoring
The Fisheries Department is modernizing; today it received technology to monitor the waters and to better fight illegal activities at sea. After receiving training from Conservation Drones, the officers attached to the compliance unit of the department are ready to put to use two operating drones and two test drones. The equipment was handed over to fisheries administrator, Beverly Wade. Jose Sanchez of Wildlife Conservation Society collaborated with News Five on the following report.
Jose Sanchez, Reporting
The Fisheries Department has literally shifted its focus from the seas to the skies in a bold move to increase the capacity of its officers on the sea. Conservation drones are about to be installed as one of the department’s tools against illegal activities.
Calman Hall, Coxswain, Acting Prosecutor
“I see myself building my capacity in whatever and this will help me to help present some of our cases in court because I know firsthand how these things work. So I can help better help present out case.”
Mike Sabal, Chief Coxwain, Fisheries Dept.
“I’m the senior boat captain in Fisheries Dept. I’m out here to learn to fly the drones because what the fisheries dept is doing shortly is economizing and minimizing on fuel. When the drones go out to spots we don’t really have to go by boat until we see something going on and move on our operations.”
During the week, the Conservation Compliance Unit received training from trainers of Conservation Drones.
Joseph Douglas, Conservation Drones
“The final goal is to have these guys able to fly automatic missions from start to finish they should be able to send the plane up, tell it where to go in a ten mile radius, differently way points, different GPS coordinates. They are going to go out and they are going to monitor these areas with video. The first day they are very attentive and they pick up everything all the preflight check list that you need to do. All the stuff that’s boring but you got to make sure you’re detailed oriented and make sure you get it done right, so once it goes up in the air you don’t have any trouble little things that result in a crash. Yesterday we did all that and they did great. Today we came out and everything we did yesterday they put it together rally quick, no issues.”
Assembly of a drone is done in minutes, and the officers were also quick to learn the software.
Maurice Westby, Conservation Compliance Unit
“This is the software that we are using. This tells you everything you need to know about the drone: balancing, the altitude you are, the speed you are going, the distance up, where the drone is. This little red marker right here shows you where it is. This is what you use to navigate, this tells you that the drone is level, you zero in, this is the altitude, we are on the ground now so this is the ground level, all of these thins shows you the distance that you’re up. This shows you the speed that you are going, well it is stationary now. It gives you the GPS that you’re on. This is 3D Fix so the drone is prepared to fly.”
And the drones do fly.
“The specifics of flight time. The height that it can reach or how low can it fly?”
“Flight time is going to be about 80 minutes which is really good for these planes, the altitude, you can go pretty high, comfortably 400 meters and generally when you are flying with video you only want 120 meters for good video quality. So that the main goal.
“In terms of the range?”
“The range is ten miles telemetry range, which is the computer range where it can still communicate with plane and the actual radio control range is more in the 1 mile range. At that point you don’t have a visual on your plane so you don’t need to be controlling it, it should be automatic once you get out of that range. There are 6 different modes and one is return to launch. Anytime you put it in that mode it’s going to go to a specific altitude, usually a hundred meters and its going to head back to the point where you powered the plane on and its going circle that point. So at any point you can put it in return to launch and it will come back to you.”
After the Fisheries officers prepare their case files, the Acting prosecutor for the department, Calman Hall would then take the evidence and the accused to Magistrate Court.
“With the drones and the addition of pro go cameras, how do you see that playing an effective roll in your job as acting prosecutor for the Fisheries Department?
“Well that will give us more leverage where we have a more secure evidence when we go to present a case. It’s not just you can take just any evidence and present it to the court, but with that where you are actually on the ground they can see you doing this illegal activity in this certain area. Sometimes you have many of them going to court and they say I was not there; I was not at this point. Now with the drones and the camera when they do their flyover, with this caught on the camera then there is no they can say that is was not them and say they are not in the area and did not have this type of sea product.”
At the end of the successful weeklong training, today two fully operating drones and two test drones were handed over to Fisheries Administrator Beverly Wade .
Beverly Wade, Fisheries Administrator
“Over the years we’ve enjoyed and benefited forma very strategic partnership with the Wildlife Conservation Society and they have worked with the Fisheries Department to promote sustainable fisheries in Belize. One of the things that we have grappled with over time is the high cost of enforcement activities. We have a very immense coastline. We have been looking at new innovative approaches to enforcement in Belize. One of the things that Wildlife Conservation Society has now partnered with the Fisheries Department with is for us to now introduce new technologies to enforcement and today we are very fortune to have the handing over of four drone to the department through Wildlife Conservation Society which now suppose to allow us to become more effective more efficient with our enforcement activities. So rather than launching patrols to cover and entire area it allows us to see what is happening out there and have more directed responses and at the same time it allows us to now be more efficient with our resources that is allocated to us through our budgetary processes. It costs roughly around four thousand Belize dollars and with equipment and the training that we now have been doing this week with our personnel through the assistance of conservationdrones.org it costs roughly around six thousand dollars per unit. So what we have benefited from is a sizeable donation plus or minus twenty thousand dollars from W.C.S. If we have compliance of our fisheries laws it means that our resources will now have a greater chance of being utilized sustainably and now for us to continue to make efforts, great strides in conservation and sustainable use.”
The applications for the drones are endless. They can be used to monitor manatees and also in mapping of areas. For W.C.S. Jose Sanchez Reporting.