14th Anniversary of the Flying Scouts Aerial Dugong Survey
Despite several logistical challenges due to Covid-19 restrictions, this years survey managed to get under way during early April 2021.
Flying Ed ferried HS-EAL – Miss Dippy from Chiang Mai to Phuket Airpark at the end of March, and then used HS-TOM – Malee as the crew aircraft to transport personnel and equipment from Nok Airfield, Chiang Mai to Phuket Airpark.
This year the Endangered Marine Animal Group has moved from Phuket to Trang province, so a new team has taken over the care of the Dugongs, amongst other endangered species.
In order to get ready for the Krabi survey, some training flights over Phang Na bay were planned in order to familiarise the new team with the aircraft and provide an opportunity to hone their photography skills. Tom Potisit generously gave up his time to help.
Flying in a light aircraft is not for the feint hearted, especially with the doors off.
As luck would have it, on Fai’s first familiarisation flight we spotted a lone adult Dugong, and a Whale Shark in Phang na bay.
After the training flights in Phuket, the team relocated to Krabi Airport to prepare for the survey proper.
As part of the aircraft preparation, accurate angles of view must be marked on Miss Dippy’s wing struts to allow the distance from the aircraft each observation is made, to be calculated, and also to prevent the spotters from looking too far away, and over counting the same animals by viewing an area already surveyed.
The first survey flight was a late afternoon high tide flight.
Encouragingly, several Dugongs were spotted near the recorded sea grass beds, including two mother and calf pairs.
The scenery around Phang Na bay is stunning. It is always a privilege to be allowed to fly around this unique scenery.
We had to return to Krabi airport before dusk which was at 1845 LT.
Due to forecast poor overnight weather, a lot of ground preparations were made to secure the aircraft.
Overnight in Krabi town is a lovely treat, right on the main estuary.
The following day marked the first in a series of early morning survey flights.
As part of the flights, the team also observe other species like dolphins and turtles. Turtles in particular are of interest because there is an active breeding and protection programme also managed by the DMCR.
It is often difficult to photograph turtles from the air, since they are much more aware of the aircraft and often mistake Miss Dippy’s shadow for that of a bird of prey and dive away to escape quickly.
Luckily, this year we did manage to get some shots of Green turtles spotted during the flights, and this year the population count of Green turtles was markedly increased.
In addition the team spotted this large pod of Humpback Dolphins. Total of around 15 Dolphins including mother and calves.
Despite a lot of overnight thunderstorm activity, the team was able to complete over 20 flying hours of survey with a general consensus amongst the marine biologists, that this years overall count was higher. Further analysis of the flight data will determine the population more accurately.
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