Intel-developed “motes” consisting of micro-processors containing temperature, humidity, barometric pressure, and infra-red sensors were deployed within Leach’s Storm Petrel nesting habitat, and linked to a computer base station in the Eno Research Station. This in turn fed into a satellite link that allowed researchers to download real-time environmental data over the internet. 

Background to the Project

Leach’s petrels spend most of their lives in off-shore waters, returning to land only during the breeding season. They nest in burrows in soft, peaty soil, and are active around breeding colonies only during the dark — typically after 10 p.m. Studies at the Alice Eno Field Research Station, including Julia Ambagis’ Master’s Thesis suggest that Great Duck Island may be one of the largest petrel breeding colonies in the eastern United States.

Monitoring petrel activity (or indeed that of any seabird) is fraught with peril as human disturbance can lead to nest abandonment or increased predation on chicks or eggs. Researchers are caught in the dilemma of on the one hand wanting multiple measurements of biological parameters at frequent intervals, and on the other of potentially harming their subjects and biasing results.

“Mote Sensing”, using small wireless probes, offers a way out of this dilemma. Deployment of a broad array of individual Motes, capable of recording temperature, humidity, pressure, etc. allowed us to follow nesting activity throughout the season, with minimal impact on the birds. Researchers needed to enter the colony only at the beginning of the study to actually insert the Motes into burrows. From that point on all data was transmitted to a base computer at Eno Station for up-link to the web. 

The ultimate goal was to enable researchers anywhere in the world to engage in non-intrusive monitoring of sensitive wildlife and habitats.

Motes Deployed

In May of 2002, 14 Mote sensors were deployed in the meadow immediately north of Eno Station. The base computer was set up, and hardware for a satellite link was installed. In early July we deployed our first “burrow-motes”. This generation of mote contains sensors for temperature, relative humidity, and an infra-red thermopile.

To the great excitement of the entire team, we scored a success with the first mote deployed. In the early evening the thermopile detected an object significantly above ambient temperature in the burrow, and playback of a “chuckle call” elicited an immediate response — we had a bird present and incubating!

In theory, much if not all monitoring work can be done without ANY human presence on the island. This capability has enormous potential for conservation efforts in small, isolated locations where any human presence is likely to be disruptive, or with species that are particularly sensitive to disturbance. It could also permit re-assessment of current or prior studies in order to determine the effects of disturbance on results.