Earlier this week, a story circulated about a drone hobbyist whose photos of a Dallas-area meat-packing plant dumping blood into a river got the feds to investigate the plant. Environmentalism seems to be a perfect use for the new breed of cheap drones, something activists are just now starting to figure out. Last month, Sea Shepherd activists used a drone to track and photograph a Japanese whaling fleet. But compared to their counterparts' organizing protests and reporting news, environmental campaigners have been relatively slow to adopt drone technology. They shouldn't be.
With things like the Drone Journalism Lab and the occucopter, simply and easily seeing and filming activities on the ground from above, out of reach of the police or other grounded obstructions, is easier than ever. For environmentalists, these drones can do double duty as environmental monitors as well as camera platforms.
The story from Dallas is a great example of why drones are so efficient at spotting environmental problems: Using a $75 airframe fitted with a point-and-shoot camera, the drone operator shot pictures of discoloration in the water, which he could show to regulators. From what he wrote to the drone news site sUAS News, he wasn't necessarily even looking for evidence of pollution, but when he saw it, he had instant evidence. Had he been drone-free, he'd have had to somehow get a water sample or some other proof, which would require getting to the edge of the river close enough to the plant. Environmentalists tend to get busted for trespassing when they try to collect evidence from suspicious sites, so being able to snap photos from a distance gives them a huge advantage.