MONTEREY, Calif. - There's increasing concern for the Monterey Bay, a nationally protected sanctuary, as recreational drones become more popular. On Wednesday night, we investigated the impact of these unmanned aircraft on marine life.
The FAA bans use of all recreational drones over four areas in the Monterey Bay. But Newschannel 5 got a first hand look at why this relatively new and somewhat controversial technology has some positive and negative affects on our marine life.
Officials with the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary said marine life can't tell whether it's a bird or a plane.
"A drone that's hovering down over a seal colony would have a similar affect on the seals as a drone hovering outside your living room window," said Scott Kathey, Federal Regulatory Coordinator for Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary.
The sanctuary said drone use has significantly increased within the past year in nationally protected areas.
"We want to make sure that they also consider the side effects of that activity, when you're in a coastal area and you've got concentrations of mammals and birds. They can get spooked by things like this very easily," Kathey said.
But the sanctuary admits drones are not all bad.
"They could be used for research they could be used for monitoring they could be used for emergency response," Kathey said.
Drone pilot John Ivey agrees. He's already pitching his skills to local law enforcement agencies and local businesses.
"Anything you could use an aircraft or helicopter to go do, you can send one of these out on a moments notice for about a quarter of the cost," Ivey said.
Ivey believes most drone users aren't being careless because the equipment isn't cheap.
"The guys who are out and have these and they're flying and trying to chase birds or those things, they're crashing," Ivey said.
This type of technology isn't just something that can sneak up on something - because it's actually really loud. There are four no-fly zones below 1,000 feet within the sanctuary - the FAA states drones must stay below 400 feet.
"Then they really can't fly in our zones at all," Kathey said.
Ivey said he follows the sanctuary rules, when he goes out to capture marine life. He agrees more regulation isn't such a bad thing.
"Totally for licensing, is fine, and regulations I'm fine with that too because I don't want to use it for anything but what's going to be advantageous for the group," Ivey said.
Sanctuary officials said if someone is caught illegally flying a drone, they can be fined. But they will consider permit requests for those who ask beforehand. Drones are also banned in national parks.
More information from the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary on drone usage is here.