Awesome Application Awards: Axis Video Solution Helps Manatee-Saving Club For Special Category Prize

Axis provided dome network cameras to Save the Manatee Club in Florida to live stream manatees to schools and general public.

People might know Jimmy Buffett best for crooning about drinking margaritas and eating cheeseburgers in paradise, but are perhaps less aware that the “Parrothead” leader champions worthy causes – such as the Save the Manatee Club, which he established in 1981 with then Florida Gov. (and eventual long-serving U.S. Sen.) Bob Graham. Save the Manatee Club (SMC) was formed to help protect endangered manatees and their habitat along pursuits such as raising awareness, rescuing, rehabilitating and sponsoring research for Florida’s official state marine mammal.

Working toward those objectives, the organization was seeking a video solution that could also help researchers monitor manatee health and conduct population surveys for the site at Blue Spring State Park. And as has become popular with other animals in protected habitats and the facilities that shelter them (think pandas, bald eagles, etc.), live video streaming via the Web was also seen as a way to educate and let the general population peek in on the animals’ daily activities.

“We needed a way to both document manatee behavior more comprehensively and to share the manatees’ lives with the public in order to engender additional support for their recovery and protection,” recalls SMC Executive Director Pat Rose. “We have a very large area to monitor – the entire length of the spring run – so we chose to set up three locations, but could only afford to deploy two cameras at first while we are seeking a means to improve coverage and higher bandwidth for streaming video.”

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Axis Communications’ involvement with SMC began when a project designer contacted Midwest Surveillance hoping to procure free or discounted equipment and initially purchased two P Series cameras (P5534-E dome network models) at a discount, Axis says. Later, with the support of Axis personnel, SMC was loaned two M5014 dome network cameras for underwater experimentation, and most recently Axis provided a Q6035 pan/ tilt/zoom (p/t/z) dome network camera so above-water viewing could be 1080p. As Axis notes, the project is ongoing and in need of upgrading, which SMC hopes means eventually replacing the 720p underwater cameras with 1080p models.

IP cameras were selected for the project, but on the whole the location at a remote part of Florida offered several obstacles. Power and network drops had to be installed from the ground up, as the park had access to neither, and the wooded area prevented line-of-sight applications at the time (the first installation was in late 2011).

From a small shed on the park property, a fiber-optic network and power were run approximately 1,500 feet along an existing boardwalk, according to Axis, with three drops capable of feeding three devices apiece. DSL Internet services were able to be acquired for streaming and remote management, but the limited broadband allows for only one camera to be streamed at a time.

“The most challenging aspect was to simultaneously establish a research, health monitoring and public awareness program in a remote area without available power or network infrastructure on a very small budget,” says Rose. “The underwater camera housings are made from plumbing parts as off-the-shelf equipment either did not exist or was unaffordable. Every penny saved is helping us plan for greater live and coordinated streaming to schools and the general public, but more equipment is still needed.”

Despite the challenges, the efforts are paying off for the scientific and educational communities. The live streaming has accounted for more than 15 million viewer minutes from in excess of 900,000 unique streams since November 2011, and Save the Manatee Club has been able to post clips via social media to a following that eagerly awaits viewing particularly during “manatee season” November through March.

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