Technology has brought the deforestation of the Amazon into a whole new light: The Landsat satellites show us the sheer scale of the devastation, and Google has created a time lapse video of 40 years of destruction in the region. Now, those working to preserve the region’s diverse ecosystem have turned to drones to help stop illegal logging and mining activities. Using $5000 dollar wing drones, custom designed by a Wake Forest University graduate student, the Amazon Basin Conservation Association in Peru is catching deforestation as it happens—giving them a greater shot at stopping loggers in their tracks.

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As reported by NPR, the Amazon Basin Conservation Association has just five rangers to monitor the 145,000 hectare (560 square mile) Los Amigos conservation area. In that area, illegal gold mining and logging activities have reduced vast areas of rainforest to dust—and conservationists have struggled to identify where these activities are happening fast enough to stop them.

That’s where the drones come in. Max Messinger, a graduate student at Wake Forest University created the flying wing, foam UAV to suit the particular challenges faced by those working in Los Amigos. As NPR explains “These $5,000 toy planes have been modified so they have sophisticated autopilot functions. Unlike the helicopter drones that were popular gifts this past holiday season, Castaneda’s drones look more like plastic foam replicas of the Stealth bomber. The fuselage is V-shaped, with a single propeller protruding out the back. Each machine spans 3 feet wide and weighs less than 5 pounds.”

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Related: Google and Landsat create time lapse videos showing 40 years of environmental destruction in the Amazon

Each one is equipped with a Canon camera, and is able to fly up to 10 miles to a specific GPS location, going below cloud cover to provide clear, instantaneous images of the rainforest. Speaking to The Drone Info, Messigner and ACA board member Miles Silman explained: “We have been working with the drones in Peru for about a year and since then we have identified a number of illegal mine sites.” By identifying these illegal mine sites, they are able to monitor their spread and ensure that they do not cross over into protected areas.

In addition, Wake Forest’s UAV lab is using the drones to track the progress of reforestation efforts and measure the carbon content of forests for carbon conservation. They’ve also deployed the technology in the U.S., using the drones to measure the amount of coal ash that leaked into a North Carolina river after a disastrous spill from a Duke Energy coal ash pond last year.

Via NPR, The Drone Info

Images courtesy Max Messinger/Wake Forest University, Conservacion Amazonica

Max Messinger of Wake Forest University flies a drone in the Peruvian Amazon. Amazon drones, drones in the amazon
courtesy of Jason Beaubien/NPR