February 23, 2024

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New Zealand University Uses Drones to Study Endangered Manta Rays

Manta rays could be getting the lift they need from technology after all. An innovation developed by a University of Auckland PhD student has the potential of helping scientists monitor endangered manta rays.

Improved monitoring can help scientists to better gauge the health of manta ray populations in the face of overfishing and climate change. The problem is manta rays are particularly hard to monitor. That is where a pioneering study by a University of Auckland postgraduate student came in handy.

The PhD student got the idea during fieldwork in 2019 in Raja Ampat, Indonesia, as he flew drones over the giant fish. Manta rays are often difficult to observe via in-water surveys, but using drones they are very obvious.

It was manta season, and I flew a drone over a squadron of 20 to 30 reef manta rays feeding on the sea surface, getting clear visuals of size variations and distinguishing features such as the mating scars on sexually mature females.

University of Auckland PhD Student

 The advantage of the drone approach is stealth. It avoids disruption to the animals unlike alternative methods of monitoring such as divers entering the water to assess the rays’ size. To help researchers assess the animals better, the technique was finessed with the addition of a length of PVC pipe – dubbed the “MantaMeasure” – which floats in the vicinity of the rays to serve as a size reference for the images captured by drone.

Internationally, the ingenious method is starting to attract serious attention. For example, researchers affiliated with the Manta Trust charity are interested in adopting the method. The research paper was entitled “How Big Is That Manta Ray? A Novel and Non-Invasive Method for Measuring Reef Manta Rays Using Small Drones.” The University of Auckland research team affirmed their success. They felt confident they have demonstrated conclusively the value of using small, commercially available drones to accurately measure the body size of surface-feeding or cruising Mobula Alfredi (reef manta rays) with minimal or no impact on the animals.

While reef manta rays are distributed widely across the tropical and subtropical regions of the Indian and Western Pacific Oceans, they are not as prevalent in New Zealand waters. The study could help grow the population of the larger oceanic manta ray (Mobula Birostris), which reaches an impressive wingspan of 7 metres and is considered “endangered” on the IUCN Red List.

The giant manta ray (or oceanic manta ray) has been classified by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) as endangered joining 30% of sharks in the soon-to-be-extinct list. The main threat to the giant manta ray is commercial fishing, with the species both targeted and caught as bycatch in a number of global fisheries throughout its range. Manta rays are particularly valued for their gill rakers, which are traded internationally.

Technology-wise, a drone can fly without WiFi or cell service. Instead, they are controlled by remote ground control systems (GSC), also referred to as a ground cockpit. The Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) system has two parts, the drone itself and the control system. The nose of the unmanned aerial vehicle is where all the sensors and navigational systems are present. Today, drones have been extensively used for military and commercial purposes.

UAVs have been greatly utilised in ICT. Their smaller size, quick deployment and dropping cost make them ideal for a growing list of areas. For instance, their inputs are considered crucial in smart agriculture as they can be equipped with a lot more sensors than just a regular camera (e.g., multispectral, infrared). That should provide timely data for more analytics than just the regular camera.

Indeed, this is excellent news for New Zealand, a country that has continually pursued its digital transformation. Just recently, Wellington has chosen to upgrade internet access in rural areas to improve connectivity and get everyone closer as the pandemic winds down.

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Qlik’s vision is a data-literate world, where everyone can use data and analytics to improve decision-making and solve their most challenging problems. A private company, Qlik offers real-time data integration and analytics solutions, powered by Qlik Cloud, to close the gaps between data, insights and action. By transforming data into Active Intelligence, businesses can drive better decisions, improve revenue and profitability, and optimize customer relationships. Qlik serves more than 38,000 active customers in over 100 countries.

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CTC Global Singapore, a premier end-to-end IT solutions provider, is a fully owned subsidiary of ITOCHU Techno-Solutions Corporation (CTC) and ITOCHU Corporation.

Since 1972, CTC has established itself as one of the country’s top IT solutions providers. With 50 years of experience, headed by an experienced management team and staffed by over 200 qualified IT professionals, we support organizations with integrated IT solutions expertise in Autonomous IT, Cyber Security, Digital Transformation, Enterprise Cloud Infrastructure, Workplace Modernization and Professional Services.

Well-known for our strengths in system integration and consultation, CTC Global proves to be the preferred IT outsourcing destination for organizations all over Singapore today.

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Planview has one mission: to build the future of connected work. Our solutions enable organizations to connect the business from ideas to impact, empowering companies to accelerate the achievement of what matters most. Planview’s full spectrum of Portfolio Management and Work Management solutions creates an organizational focus on the strategic outcomes that matter and empowers teams to deliver their best work, no matter how they work. The comprehensive Planview platform and enterprise success model enables customers to deliver innovative, competitive products, services, and customer experiences. Headquartered in Austin, Texas, with locations around the world, Planview has more than 1,300 employees supporting 4,500 customers and 2.6 million users worldwide. For more information, visit www.planview.com.

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SIRIM is a premier industrial research and technology organisation in Malaysia, wholly-owned by the Minister​ of Finance Incorporated. With over forty years of experience and expertise, SIRIM is mandated as the machinery for research and technology development, and the national champion of quality. SIRIM has always played a major role in the development of the country’s private sector. By tapping into our expertise and knowledge base, we focus on developing new technologies and improvements in the manufacturing, technology and services sectors. We nurture Small Medium Enterprises (SME) growth with solutions for technology penetration and upgrading, making it an ideal technology partner for SMEs.

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HashiCorp provides infrastructure automation software for multi-cloud environments, enabling enterprises to unlock a common cloud operating model to provision, secure, connect, and run any application on any infrastructure. HashiCorp tools allow organizations to deliver applications faster by helping enterprises transition from manual processes and ITIL practices to self-service automation and DevOps practices. 

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IBM is a leading global hybrid cloud and AI, and business services provider. We help clients in more than 175 countries capitalize on insights from their data, streamline business processes, reduce costs and gain the competitive edge in their industries. Nearly 3,000 government and corporate entities in critical infrastructure areas such as financial services, telecommunications and healthcare rely on IBM’s hybrid cloud platform and Red Hat OpenShift to affect their digital transformations quickly, efficiently and securely. IBM’s breakthrough innovations in AI, quantum computing, industry-specific cloud solutions and business services deliver open and flexible options to our clients. All of this is backed by IBM’s legendary commitment to trust, transparency, responsibility, inclusivity and service.

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