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DOE tests drone-based thermal cameras to detect iguanas

Thermal imaging has been used for years in various applications, including law enforcement and search and rescue.

Now, the Department of Environment is hopeful drone-mounted thermal imaging cameras can help better locate elusive, invasive green iguanas in the sister islands.

High above the treetops of the Queen Elizabeth II Botanical Park, the unmistakable outline of an iguana stands out to the eye of a drone-mounted infrared camera.

“Using the technology on a reptile is something that I don’t think anybody really thought of,” said DOE Terrestrial Resources Unit manager Fred Burton.

He told Cayman 27 the DOE tested the thermal imaging equipment in December with scientists from the University of Harrisburg (Pennsylvania), who had previously used the technology to look for snakes.

“We’re looking at trying to acquire [this thermal imaging equipment] this year, for primarily for use of the sister islands,” said Mr. Burton.

Mr. Burton told Cayman 27 the thermal imaging cameras can be especially helpful in locating elusive green iguanas on Cayman Brac and Little Cayman, where populations are just getting established.

“It’s a needle in a haystack kind of thing, you can go to Spot Bay in Cayman Brac and we have a team there for a week and we get like less than ten iguanas,” said Mr. Burton. “If we talk about Little Cayman it is even more extreme.”

He says ideally, the DOE could fly a two camera drone, identifying heat signatures via thermal imaging, and then verifying the species of iguana with a secondary optical zoom camera.

“We can use the zoom camera to zoom in then, and say is that an iguana or not, and the drone can move on and we can keep the survey moving faster that way,” said Mr. Burton.

The DOE told Cayman 27 thermal imaging can detect adult iguanas best in the late morning and in the late afternoons. Hatchlings have proved virtually undetectable.

And while the infrared-equipped drones may be able to detect iguanas with ease, it will still take human hands to catch them and kill them.

About the author

Joe Avary

Joe Avary

Joe Avary has been with Cayman 27 since 2014. He brings 20 years in television experience to the job, working hard every day to bring the people of Cayman stories that inform the public and make a difference in the community. Joe hopes his love for the Cayman Islands shines through in his informative and entertaining weather reports. If you have a story idea for Joe or just want to say hello, call him at 324-2141 or send an email to josephavary@hurleysmedia.ky

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