– – Written by Christine Munisteri and Nick Altizer

Regardless of where you are in the world, kids love drones. They’re excited and curious about these flying machines that are (according to the kids) used to “spy on people,” “chase bad guys,” and “deliver packages.” For our work at Citizen Science GIS, we don’t use drones for any of those purposes; instead, we use them for science. More specifically, we utilize drones to map the islands of Belize and the village of Hopkins, where we spend our summers for the Citizen Science GIS REU. While every Maps, Apps, and Drones event is a great experience for our team, there is something extra special about the ones in Hopkins. Over the past couple of summers, we have gotten to know many of the kids in the village and several have expressed their interest in learning about drones. During our events at Miss Bertie’s Community Library, we have the opportunity to show the kids (and any adults that stop by!) what we’re doing when they see us standing awkwardly in the streets, staring blankly at the sky. Earlier this month, we headed back to the library and showed the kids some images from the cayes and Hopkins and discussed why the imagery is important. We also graduated from the tiny Parrot Mambo drones of the summer to the DJI Phantom 4 Pro, and the kids got to plan their own flights, just like we do when we’re mapping for Open Reef!

Over on Caye Caulker, we also had the opportunity to teach a new group of youth at the Ocean Academy on Citizen Science GIS’s utilization of drones in Belize. While the same group of kids have participated in mapping activities on the island in years past, this year marked their introduction to our Open Reef work. Unfortunately, the technology was not cooperating so drone flights with the Parrot Mambo were grounded for the day. Still, the event saw a gathering of several students from the school, each dazzled by the magnificent clarity and color of Open Reef imagery when compared to publicly available satellite imagery. Conservation and ecotourism were on their minds as they considered the scientific applications of such technology. The day ended with crisp high-fives and the assurance that we would return to Ocean Academy soon for a proper hands-on demonstration of using drones for science.

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