Everything looks different from above. Barkley Sound, just south of Tofino on the outer west coast of Vancouver Island, is no exception. Within the territory of the Huu-ay-aht First Nations, the southern portion of Barkley Sound is also home to the Bamfield Marine Sciences Centre—an iconic research institute where the coastal environment has been studied since the early 1970s. But no one in the area has seen Barkley Sound quite like this before.
“Aerial imagery taken from drones is a really exciting new technology,” says Hakai archaeologist Iain McKechnie, an assistant professor at the University of Victoria (UVic) who helped facilitate the collaboration.
In April of 2016, Hakai Institute scientists launched a small drone to capture hundreds of georeferenced aerial photos, which were then pieced together to create a mosaic of overlapping images—a detailed, three-dimensional map of important places throughout Barkley Sound.
“Drones have opened up a new way to gather an enormous amount of spatial information quickly and accurately in conditions we’d never have been able to work in if we were using planes or satellites to map. We have the flexibility to launch from a boat, get incredible resolution, and do it on a cloudy day,” says Keith Holmes, a Hakai Institute geospatial scientist.
“From an archaeologist’s perspective, aerial drone footage shows ancient First Nations settlements in an entirely new way. Some of these places are otherwise indistinguishable when you view them from a boat or a kayak. Drones allow us to learn more about important cultural sites from a whole new angle,” says McKechnie.
The resulting coastal maps also can be incredibly useful for biologists.
“Future Bamfield students and university researchers could compare what they see in the intertidal on nearby Wizard Islet to what the drone captured from above. These maps can be used for all sorts of purposes. These images have excited a lot of people,” says McKechnie, who plans to introduce students to these maps during this summer’s UVic archaeological field school in Barkley Sound.
This work would not have been possible without the help of Hakai geospatial scientists and drone operators Will McInnes and Keith Holmes. We additionally thank Bamfield Marine Sciences Centre staff Sean Rogers, Eric Clelland, Shirley Paulka, and John Richards, and Brad Anholt, as well as Huu-ay-aht First Nation members Rita Johnson and Stella Peters.
This project was conducted under Huu-ay-aht heritage investigation permit 2016-11 with the logistical support of the Bamfield Marine Sciences Centre and the Huu-ay-aht government.