We Are Now Counting Birds From Space

Last week we told you how NASA was using satellites to work with the Jane Goodall Institute to protect endangered chimpanzees! Today we have another fascinating story about how scientists are using satellites to track and protect endangered species. Using the highest-resolution satellite images available, researchers are able to count individual albatrosses on top of rock outcrops near New Zealand’s Chatham Islands. 

This is the first time a species global population has been assessed from outer space. The DigitalGlobe WorldView-3 satellite is able to produce high-resolution images that can discern features as small as 30cm across. Researchers from the British Antarctic Survey were able to count the number of albatross nests. Using the satellite images, they counted 3,600 nests, which is a drop from a manual count that totaled 5,700 nests in 2009.

Digital Globe

 This new process for counting albatross populations is cheaper and far more efficient than any other data collection method. Getting people to the Chatham Islands and nearby outcrops is not only expensive, but very dangerous! Also capturing images by plane can be complicated by weather and cloud cover. 

Having this new perspective to make population counts of albatross will allow researchers to monitor this endangered species regularly and make better conservation decisions.