Project to use drones to map Bruce Power’s environmental impact

When Amanda Hutter was young, she used to look up at eagles flying above her and wonder what they see.

With the Eagle Eye Project, Hutter, who hails from Saugeen Shores, and her co-workers Emric Thompson and Clayton Thompson, of Saugeen First Nation, no longer have to wonder. By using technology, Hutter’s Green Feet Ecosystem Services Management gives those of us on the ground the ability to see the impacts of environmental restoration and protection efforts. The project is something that groups, environmental organizations or individuals that are focused on restoration and protection projects can get assistance from Green Feet on.

Bruce Power supported the project in 2018 with a $30,000 donation through its Community Investment and Sponsorship Program.

“This project uses unmanned aerial vehicles (drones) and sensors (multi-spectral and RGB cameras) to collect aerial pictures and videos of restoration and project sites. We then run these images through aerial imagery analysis programs for use in Geographic Information Systems (GIS), in order to extract information that typically cannot be seen with the naked eye,” Hutter explained.

“What we look for in these images is information about what exactly is in each ecosystem, such as the amount of vegetation cover, bare or covered soil, even areas where there are tiny creeks or where water naturally pools. With near-infrared sensors, we can look even further into the signatures that plants, water and soil leave on the land.”

From the data within these images, it can be seen how an ecosystem is functioning, Hutter added. Access to this accurate information allows us to better understand the functions of ecosystems and helps the organizations to better manage these ecosystems. This type of knowledge helps organizations to help the ecosystems do their jobs – provide us with cleaner water, better soil, and sequestering more carbon.

“In the end, we provide high-resolution pictures, videos and maps back to each organization, which can give them accurate data, as well as a different perspective, about how their work is benefiting ecosystem health in our community.”

In 2018, 66 flights have been completed on a drone provided by Bruce Power, and another 22 flights have been done on a second drone. Of the 30 sites that have been looked at, eight are sites that are funded by Bruce Power, and, by the end of the summer, that number is expected to double.

“This includes baseline surveys, aerial promo videos, orthomosaics of each site (hundreds of aerial photos stitched together into one big, high-resolution picture), and analysis of the ecosystem features of each site – as requested by each organization. There were five different organizations with suitable ‘on the ground’ projects that have been funded by Bruce Power, and they’ll benefit from the data shared,” Hutter said, adding the final flight of the year took place on Aug. 19, with the approximately 350GB of raw images and video to be uploaded by the end of August. Green Feet’s reports and analysis will begin the first week of September.

“The response for this work has truly been incredible and for us at Green Feet,” Hutter said. “It really feels great to return some assistance to some organizations that are at the root of protection and restoration work – including Bruce Power itself.”