Martin County uses drone to document algae

MARTIN COUNTY, Fla. - Martin County is taking a more thorough approach to documenting the algae in the St. Lucie River every week by recording the river from hundreds of feet in the air.

"With this, we get an entire capture of the estuary in one day and we get the same kind of data week after week," said John Maehl, ecosystems restoration manager for Martin County. "It helps us to draw better conclusions."

Previously, Martin County sent employees out every week to drive around and look at the river to try to document algae blooms, but some of the rivers are difficult to access, so the county decided to hire Ecological Associates for drone surveying.

"We’ll be spending lots of time just trying to learn from this season in the data we collected through these drone surveys," Maehl said.

Once a week, Ecological Associates launches the drone from a boat and then captures video and pictures from the St. Lucie Lock to just east of the Roosevelt Bridge.

"The drone gives you that extra perspective," said Max Toebe, of Ecological Associates.

The first drone survey was done on June 13 then once weekly since July 9.

"It helps a lot because even on the boat we have a turtle tower, and even up on a turtle tower, I can be looking down, but because of the way that the water and clouds cover, I could not see any algae, but as soon as I get the drone up, there’s just tons of algae across," Toebe said.

During the drone surveying done last Thursday, the drone caught streaks of bright green in the water lining the bank the St. Lucie River. However, just five days later on Tuesday, there was not nearly as much green in sight.

“The rain over the weekend and wind and other conditions seem to have set back the algae," Maehl said.

However, Maehl thinks the drone will likely capture more algae before the summer ends.

“There appear to be very little matted algae. We don’t believe the algae is gone. We just think it’s broken up. it’s in suspension and I would expect as conditions change that we’re going to see those mats reappear again," he said.

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