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To Keep Coastal Wildlife Safe, Fly Drones With Care

Category: Aquarium Announcement

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The stunning rocky shores and islands along the Oregon coast are photogenic any time of year, making the region a dream locale for photographers and videographers. With the rising popularity and sophistication of camera-equipped drones and other unmanned aircraft, it’s now easier than ever to obtain breathtaking footage of the sometimes forbidding and inaccessible areas along the coast. To do so responsibly, it’s important to be aware of the rules and regulations surrounding drone use.

First, drones are classified as small aircraft by the Federal Aviation Administration, and the agency has a number of regulations that drone “pilots” are asked to take note of. For example, drones must be flown at altitudes below 400 feet to avoid interfering with other aircraft.

Second, drone use has the potential to disturb wildlife. Animals may perceive drones as predators or threats and attempt to flee from them, causing undue stress or injury. For this reason, drone use is highly regulated or even banned in ecologically sensitive areas such as wildlife refuges and National parks.

At Newport’s Yaquina Head Outstanding Natural Area, overseen by the Bureau of Land Management, drone use is not allowed on the premises, said Site Manager Janet Johnson. The ban serves to protect the teeming seabird colonies located there, as well as nearby haul-out sites for harbor seals and California sea lions.

“Despite [drone pilots’] best intentions while flying, my staff has seen wildlife disturbed by drones at Yaquina Head, so we’ve taken a no-tolerance approach to their use,” Johnson said.

In June 2014, the National Park Service issued a temporary ban on drones in all of its parks, monuments and historic sites. The ban, while temporary, is in effect indefinitely until a permanent decision regarding drone use is reached. Similarly, drones cannot be flown on lands included within the National Wildlife Refuge System.

Oregon Islands National Wildlife Refuge spans the entire coast and encompasses 1,800 offshore rocks, reefs and islands. These landforms provide habitat for a wide variety of marine wildlife, including seabirds, seals and sea lions. “The refuge supports over one million nesting seabirds every year, attracting visitors from all over the country,” said Kelly Moroney, Project Leader for the Oregon Coastal Refuge Complex. “One way we can help protect this resource for future generations’ enjoyment is by reducing human-caused disturbance. Drones can disturb seabird colonies, which may result in nests being destroyed or abandoned.”

Visitors can enjoy the precious natural resources on the Oregon coast, provided that they respect wildlife first, Moroney said: Boats and aircraft (including drones) are required to stay at least 500 feet away from offshore rocks and islands included within Oregon Islands Refuge. Disturbing seabirds and marine mammals is illegal; violators can be fined hundreds or even thousands of dollars, depending on the location and severity of the disturbance.

State parks across the country have taken a site-by-site approach to managing drone use. In Oregon, the entire coastline is arguably a 363-mile-long park, as the state’s beaches are managed as public land by Oregon Parks and Recreation. On Oregon’s central coast, drone use is currently allowed on beaches and parks with certain restrictions: Drones must not approach or disturb wildlife, and drones cannot be flown in campgrounds, said Dylan Anderson, Park Manager for the Beverly Beach Management Unit.

“As an agency, we support any measures that safeguard our natural resources as well as the well-being of our visitors,” Anderson said. “We understand that visitors can fly their drones responsibly on our beaches, but they must be cognizant of wildlife and the privacy of other visitors. At certain sites that are considered more ecologically sensitive—such as Seal Rock State Wayside, which hosts nesting seabirds during the summer—drone use may be more restricted, and a ranger might be stationed there to enforce the restriction.”

Wherever the location, drone users are expected to be aware of current regulations and to operate their craft responsibly. Drones may offer an unparalleled vantage of Oregon’s spectacular coast, but as the saying goes, “With great power comes great responsibility.” By keeping the well-being of wildlife and other visitors in mind, drone pilots can explore the coast while preserving its resources for all to enjoy.

The Oregon Coast Aquarium creates unique and engaging experiences that connect you to the Oregon Coast and inspire ocean conservation. An accredited Association of Zoos & Aquariums institution, this 501C3 non-profit organization is ranked as one of the top 10 aquariums in the U.S. Visit us at 2820 S.E. Ferry Slip Rd., Newport, OR. www.aquarium.org, (541) 867-3474. Follow us on Facebook.com/OregonCoastAquarium, or Twitter.com/OrCoastAquarium for the latest updates.

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