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  • Rights: MĀUI63
    Published 15 April 2021 Referencing Hub media

    MĀUI63 has developed an artificial intelligence-powered unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) to find, follow and provide information to protect the last remaining Māui dolphins.

    MAUI is short for Marine Animal Unmanned Identification, and 63 represents the count of Māui dolphins when it started. MĀUI63 is made up of a small group of scientists, developers and technology experts – all dedicated to protecting marine life with the latest technologies. The project partners with a number of government and non-government organisations and commercial fisheries.

    In this video, marine mammal expert and Project Lead Associate Professor Rochelle Constantine (co-founder, MĀUI63), Tane van der Boon (co-founder, MĀUI63), Livia Esterhazy (CEO, WWF-New Zealand), Clement Chia (Chief Operating Officer, Sanford), Ray Smith (Director General, MPI) and Steve Tarrant (CEO, Moana New Zealand) discuss the collaborative project.


    Associate Professor Rochelle Constantine

    About 3 years ago, Tane, Willy and I got together and decided we wanted to get some platform – a drone platform – to be able to survey our coastal waters.

    For us, it was about moving technology forward to actually help conversation in our marine space, and Māui dolphins, that I’ve worked on for a few decades now, are probably the most urgent conservation problem we have in New Zealand’s oceans. It’s the world’s rarest dolphin. Our last estimate was 63 animals over 1 year of age, so we really don’t know anything about these dolphins outside of summertime.

    The drone will be used to cover a lot more of their potential range, summer and winter, and more frequently, so we could go every month and survey. At the moment, we’re restricted to about 3 weeks every 5 years.

    Tane van der Boon

    So essentially, the drone allows us to not just to find them and map them, but also follow them so we can really start to understand, you know, their behaviours out in the ocean. It flies in between 140 and 160 km an hour. It’ll fly for 6 hours on its own. On top of that, a camera – we’ve got 50x zoom on board, we’ve got 50 km range from the base station – so we can see full HD video, and because we can fly for such a long period of time, we can actually track them and follow them. Then we can really understand where they’re going and how they move and who they hang out with.

    Livia Esterhazy

    This particular project is innovation at its best. Using artificial intelligence and a drone, we’re able to monitor them all year round and all of our data will then be input back in to help manage fisheries, manage pollution, manage all the other human threats that impact on the Māui dolphin.

    Clement Chia

    The other thing is that, because the drone can actually spot the Māui dolphin and identify individuals using artificial intelligence, we’re going to learn so much more from the information that’s going to come from that.

    I think it’s fantastic that commercial fishing companies and ENGOs like WWF and the government can come together around a topic we all feel very passionate about and work together to deliver something like the drone project to save the Māui dolphins.

    Associate Professor Rochelle Constantine

    We’ve been working on this for a long time. It’s nice to have a grant from MPI that allows us to purchase the drone, and partnering with WWF, Sanford, Moana and MPI itself means that we can actually finally, you know, bring this to life, get it going.

    Ray Smith

    Everybody wants to save the Māui dolphin, and so what a great opportunity we’ve got to have the World Wildlife Fund, the Ministry for Primary Industries and industry alongside each other collaborating to do a really great thing, to look after this very endangered dolphin species. I’m very excited about that.

    Steve Tarrant

    We have a mandate to make sure that we have a certain set of values, kaitiaki being one of them, which is us looking after Tangaroa, and I think by bringing everyone together, it will without doubt help us have a better outcome.

    Associate Professor Rochelle Constantine

    In the coming year, we want to make sure that the platform works and show that others can use it to survey coastal New Zealand waters for Hector’s and Māui dolphins initially, but you know, using it for other marine things as well. I think this is going to really leap New Zealand research forward, you know, in the marine space.

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