Imagine a scene synonymous with a climate crisis. Perhaps you’ve thought of the Amazon rainforest or the polar ice caps, where deforestation and rapid melting have long been rallying points for conservation efforts. But the latest research suggests that it is the oceans that are key to tempering climate change.

In fact, a microorganism you’ve probably never heard of captures 40% of Earth’s carbon emissions and produces oxygen for every two out of every three breaths you take. These microscopic algae are called phytoplankton. It is both the cornerstone of the marine ecosystem and a highly efficient carbon capture system.

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Phytoplankton depend on a constant supply of nutrients, including phosphorus, iron and nitrogen. Fortunately, at the very top of the ocean food chain lives an incredibly efficient fertilizing machine: the whale.

Drones have given scientists and research teams around the world an affordable yet revolutionary way to collect data. Nowhere is this clearer than in the field of marine conservation, where research assignments have traditionally been limited to well-funded projects and a privileged few.

For Dr. Iain Kerr and the Ocean Alliance team, camera drones have democratized access to ocean research and revolutionized the way whale data is collected. The SnotBot concept turns DJI drones into flying petri dishes – it’s raw, inspiring and utterly brilliant. As a result, Kerr’s team has captured the imagination of countless conservationists.

Sea Shepherd used DJI drones to track and record illegal fishing activities in the southern Indian Ocean. With an eye in the sky, the team captured evidence of illegal driftnets and documented the crew attempting to hide evidence of their activities.

On land, drones support Antarctic conservation efforts in Borneo. Often, researchers simply need to count animal populations to understand the challenges they face over time. However, nature rarely forms an orderly queue. Combined with image recognition software, drones offer a fast and cost-effective way to scan large areas, operating over terrain that would otherwise be difficult for field crews to access.

From mapping the location of 300,000 breeding pairs of Adélie penguins to using thermal imaging to detect heat signatures of polar bear dens, drones are powering environmental projects.

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