Great Gull Island

Did You Know: Drones at Work

Mapping Great Gull Island with an Unmanned Aircraft

Joel and droneAssistant Extension Educator Joel Stocker spends a lot of his work and personal time documenting changes to the shoreline. In 2010 he contacted Helen Hays, asking if he could capture photographs over Great Gull Island with his homemade drone. She agreed. While on the island, Helen told him about the problem with invasive plants, and he connected her with Juliana Barrett.

Recognizing high-resolution aerials could be used to monitor vegetation management Juliana included experiments with aerial drone flights as part of a Connecticut Sea Grant proposal. In April 2013 the official Extension/Sea Grant flights took place, fully sanctioned by the FAA. Over 370 photographs were captured from a small four prop multirotor quadcopter, later processed using two different software systems, AgiSoft Photoscan and Pix4Dmapper. The result is a full high-resolution orthomosaic image of the entire island – a detailed tool for the habitat management plan. In addition the Pix4D software produced a full 3D topographic map, great potential for measuring erosion and the before and after effects of natural disasters like Superstorm Sandy.

Great Gull Island Boat Trip

Photos and article by Juliana Barrett for UConn Extension


Great Gull Island (GGI) is a 17-acre island between Block Island and Long Island Sounds. As one of the most important nesting habitats for roseate terns and common terns in the western hemisphere, it is critical to maintain and improve the nesting habitats on GGI. Currently, invasive and nuisance plants are overtaking much of the Island. UConn CT Sea Grant and UConn Extension are partnering with the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) and the USFWS to conduct habitat management to improve nesting habitat. UConn has played a key role in bringing partners together and has gotten grants to aid the efforts of the AMNH.


On July 17, an intrepid crew set sail for the Island and got a grand tour of the bird nesting areas and the habitat issues with which UConn faculty are helping. Many photographs were taken and all that was left behind was UConn Dairy Bar ice cream as a thank you to those working and volunteering on the Island.

tern chick terns Gull participants