Dr Amanda Hodgson

Research Fellow

About me

I am a researcher in the Harry Butler Institute. While I’m involved in a range of marine megafauna research, I have a particular interest in dugongs, aerial surveys, and adapting new technology, such as drones and artificial intelligence, for marine megafauna monitoring. I aim to continue to develop innovative ways to detect and monitor marine megafauna so that we can improve our understanding of their status, conservation needs and habitat requirements globally. I aim to make the innovative tools we are developing available around the world to enable researchers and local communities to understand and conserve their own marine megafauna populations.

Research areas

To obtain my PhD I investigated the behaviour of dugongs and the effects of human influences, including the noise from boats and underwater alarms on fishing nets. I developed an aerial observation platform called the Blimp-Cam to observe dugong behaviour in a location where dugongs form persistently large herds. I conducted focal follows on individuals and scans of their herd structure to understand the purpose of the large herds, and also observed their behaviour in response to boats passing.

I was then part of a number of projects involving aerial surveys of dugongs and other marine megafauna from small fixed-wing planes, to obtain information about their abundance, distribution, habitat use, and large-scale movements over time. I have conducted aerial surveys throughout Australia and internationally, and even participated in whale surveys in Antarctica.

Most recently I have developed methods for using drones to conduct large-scale aerial surveys of marine megafauna, with a view of understanding how surveys with drones compare to surveys by people on board manned planes. My postdoctoral researcher, Dr Christophe Cleguer, has also developed novel methods to use of small and mid-sized drones for conducting local-scale aerial surveys to create surface density models and understand habitat use. Chris’ work was conducted as part of a collaborative project with Edith Cowan University’s Centre for Marine Ecosystems Research and the Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions, with the aim of developing an approach to conserving critical seagrass habitat for dugongs in the Pilbara.

I have also collaborated with Dr Frederic Maire from the Queensland University of Technology to develop an automated system for detecting animals in the images captured during a drone survey. This AI detection system is now being integrated into a user interface that also allows the user to map the footprints of drone images, as well as manually review the images and mark individual animals which are also mapped. This software, which will be released as freeware, is being created by Martin Wieser, a photogrammetric engineer in Vienna.


Current projects

Seagrass Ecosystem Services Project

This project aims to improve the conservation status of seagrass meadows and the biodiversity they support in Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Thailand and Timor-Leste. As the dugong technical partners on this project, Chris Cleguer and I are supporting local research groups in all five partnering countries assess the value of seagrass in supporting wildlife, with dugongs being the flagship species. Using the conservation tools we are developing we will advise, train and assist local researchers in the survey of dugongs using drones.

“Using Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVS) to survey marine mammals: development of methodology and a comparison with manned aerial survey estimates”

The aim of this project is to determine whether UAVs (drones) can replace manned aerial surveys whilst producing data that can be integrated with historical records. We have produced two papers empirically testing the applicability of a large military style drone (ScanEagle) for surveys of dugongs and humpback whales. In addition we have conducted a direct comparison between the sightings rates of dugongs from a manned survey and a ScanEagle survey. The images collected during this experiment will also be used to determine whether sighting rates of dolphins, rays and turtles are comparable between manned surveys and drone surveys.

“Using AI to detect dugongs”

My collaborator, Dr Frederic Maire from Queensland University of Technology, and myself have developed a machine learning system to detect dugongs in UAV images using training images provided from our trial ScanEagle surveys. The aim of the Dugong Detector is to produce a set of potential detections that are then verified by the researcher. The recall of this system (i.e., the proportion of known dugongs detected in a set of test images) according to a test set of images is 80%. The precision of the system (proportion of detections that were true dugongs as opposed to false detections) is 27%. We are currently testing this system with a larger labelled dataset. We will use both the true and false positives from this larger dataset to improve the Dugong Detector and investigate whether particular environmental conditions or characteristics affect the system’s recall rate.

“Conserving critical seagrass habitat for dugong: an integrated assessment across the Pilbara”

This project is a collaboration between Murdoch University and Edith Cowan University in partnership with the Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions. The objective of this project is to enhance our understanding of the effect of seagrass dynamics as well as other environmental factors on the spatial dynamics and health of dugong populations; and develop innovative techniques for using mid-range, hybrid drones to conduct local-scale (10’s of kilometres) aerial surveys that were not possible using traditional manned aircraft. Note that Dr Christophe Cleguer is running this project.

“Using Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) to investigate visual detection probability of coastal dolphins during aerial surveys”

My collaborators, Dr Alex Brown and Dr Simon Allen, and I are using small, multi-rotor UAVs to conduct aerial observations of the diving behaviour of coastal dolphins to estimate the proportion of time they are ‘available’ to be counted by aerial observers. Our results will be applied to the Western Australian government’s aerial surveys of humpback dolphins in the Pilbara.

Awards and grants

Major grants (>$10K) received since arriving at Murdoch in 2010

Use of artificial intelligence to assess dugong aerial survey imagery  Department of Environment and Natural Resources, NT Lead Investigator (awarded in 2020)  $45,175

Conservation of biodiversity, seagrass ecosystems and their services – safeguarding food security and resilience in vulnerable coastal communities in a changing climate  United Nations Environment / CMS Co-Lead Investigator (awarded in 2020)  $192,706

Dugong Detector to Monitor Seagrass Health  Google.org Impact Challenge Australia 2018 Lead Investigator (awarded in 2019)  $250,000

Dugong Aerial Surveys of the Shark Bay Wooramel Banks in Summer, Autumn and Spring – Westaus Oysters Carnarvon Trial  Harvest Road (Westaus Oysters) Lead Investigator (awarded in 2019)  $343,064

Feasibility study and experimentation on the use of drones for cetacean monitoring in the ACCOBAMS Agreement Area  ACCOBAMS (the Agreement on the Conservation of Cetaceans of the Black Sea, Mediterranean Sea and contiguous Atlantic area). Lead Investigator (awarded in 2019)  $22,611

Using Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) to investigate visual detection probability of coastal dolphins during aerial surveys  Sea World Research and Rescue Foundation Inc. Co-Investigator (awarded in 2017)  $49,432

Using Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) to investigate visual detection probability of coastal dolphins during aerial surveys  Department of Biodiversity Conservation and Attractions Co-Investigator (awarded in 2017)  $54,839

Conserving Critical Seagrass Habitat for Dugong: An Integrated Assessment Across the Pilbara  Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions Lead Investigator (awarded in 2016)  $473,672

Using Unmanned Aerial Vehicles to survey marine mammals: manual detection of dugongs in images to allow validation of alternative detection methods Australian Antarctic Division – Australian Marine Mammal Centre Lead Investigator (awarded in 2013)  $53,623

Abundance estimation of breeding stock ‘D’ of humpback whales (Western Australia): a pilot study to determine optimal survey methods and location  Australian Antarctic Division – Australian Marine Mammal Centre Co-Investigator (awarded in 2013)  $199,400

Wheatstone Project: Dugong Aerial Surveys  Chevron (Funding via URS) Lead Investigator (awarded in 2012 to 2015)  $1,893,003

Using Unmanned Aerial Vehicles to survey marine mammals: development of methodology: Field trial 2  Woodside Energy Lead Investigator (awarded in 2011)  $60,000

Using Unmanned Aerial Vehicles to survey marine mammals: development of methodology: Field trial 1  Woodside Energy Lead Investigator (awarded in 2010)  $43,700

Using Unmanned Aerial Vehicles to survey marine mammals: development of methodology and a comparison with manned aerial survey estimates  Australian Antarctic Division – Australian Marine Mammal Centre (Bill Dawbin Postdoctoral Fellowship) Lead Investigator (awarded in 2010)  $440,400

Events and speaking engagements

Presentations since arriving at Murdoch in 2010:

Invited guest speaker:

Hodgson, A. (2018). Using AI to help conserve the sea cow. Asia Pacific AI for Social Good Summit and Workshop (Google / United Nations Economic and Social Commission for the Asia Pacific). Bangkok, Thailand, 13-14 December 2018.

Hodgson, A. (2018). Using AI to help conserve the sea cow. Google Media Event A.I.stralian Stories. Sydney, 31 May 2018.

Hodgson, A., N. Kelly and D. Peel (2014). Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) for surveying humpback whales: A direct comparison between land-based and UAV sightings. Symposium: Using unmanned aerial systems (UAS) to study wildlife populations and their habitat. The Wildlife Society 21st Annual Conference. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, 25-30 October 2014.

Hodgson, A. (2010). Dugong and coastal dolphin distribution and abundance in the Arabian Gulf: current knowledge and research needs. 2nd Marine Conservation Forum (European Wildlife Society / WWF and Pew Environment Group). Abu Dhabi, UAE, 14-16 December 2010.

Conferences (Oral talks I have presented):

Hodgson, A.J., Cleguer, C., Maire, F., Wieser, M., Tyne, J., Matthews, S. and Kwan, D. (2019) Using drones, artificial intelligence and geospatial techniques to revolutionise dugong and seagrass protection globally. 2nd World Marine Mammal Conference. Barcelona, Spain, 9-12 December 2019.

Hodgson, A., D. Peel and N. Kelly (2015). Unmanned versus manned: a direct comparison between sightings from an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) and human observers during a dugong aerial survey. 21st Biennial Conference on the Biology of Marine Mammals. San Francisco, California, 13-18 December 2015.

Hodgson, A. (2013). Unmanned Aerial Vehicles as a new behavioural observation tool: estimating humpback whale availability corrections for aerial surveys. 20th Biennial Conference on the Biology of Marine Mammals. Dunedin, New Zealand, 9-13 December 2013.

Hodgson, A., N. Kelly and D. Peel (2011). A successful demonstration of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles for detecting dugongs and a range of other species. 19th Biennial Conference on the Biology of Marine Mammals. Tampa, Florida, 27 November – 2 December 2011.

Hodgson, A. (2011). Unmanned Aerial Vehicles: a new technique for surveying marine mammals. AMSA 2011. Fremantle, WA, 3-7 July 2011.

Hodgson, A. J., H. Marsh and B. L. Chilvers (2007). The plasticity of dugong herding behaviour: functions and environmental correlates. 17th Biennial Conference on the Biology of Marine Mammals. Cape Town, South Africa, 29 November – 3 December 2007.

Professional and community service

Invited Member  |  UNEP Dugong Technical Advisory Group  |  2015 – current

  • One of 11 dugong and seagrass researchers asdvising and assisting research under the United Nations Environment Program / Convention on Migratory Species Dugong Memorandum of Understanding.
  • The Dugong MoU aims to facilitate and foster the Conservation and Management of Dugongs and their Habitats throughout their Range (46 range states (countries) across the Indo-Pacific of which 27 are signatories).
  • Developed an E-Resource Kit – an online resource for dugong and seagrass researchers internationally. This website has been visited by people from over 90 countries.

Invited Participant  |  IUCN Sirenia Specialist Group, Japan Expert Workshop  |  Sept 2019

  • Provide advice on the potential to use drones in contribution to an Action Plan that summarises the status and future needs for the protection of dugongs in Japan.

Associate Editor  |  Journal of Unmanned Vehicle Systems  |  2015 – current

Regional Co-Chair  |  IUCN Sirenian Specialist Group – Pacific Region  |  2013 – current

Member  |  Society for Marine Mammalogy |  2001 – current

Invited Member  |  Murdoch University’s UAV Working Group  |  2016 – 2019

Consultant  |  Megafauna Working Group: Reef 2050 Long-Term Sustainability Plan  |  2016-2018

  • Conducted a desktop study on the future use of drone technology to monitor dugongs, turtles and coastal dolphins as part of the Reef 2050 Plan – an overarching strategy for managing the Great Barrier Reef.

Invited Participant  |  US Marine Mammal Commission UAS Advanced Survey Technology Workshop  |  2014

  • Provided advice to the United States Marine Mammal Commission on the Development and Use of UASs by National Marine Fisheries Service for Surveying Marine Mammals during their workshop in Pittsburgh (Report).

Doctoral and masters supervisions

  • Claire Greenwell,  PhD,  2018 to ongoing  (Co-Supervisor)

Life history and population dynamics of the Australian Fairy Tern, with implications for conservation management


  • Daniella Hanf,  Research Masters (with Training),  2013 to 2015 (Co-Supervisor)

Species distribution modelling of southern Pilbara coastal dolphins



  • Preen, A., Das, H., Al-Rumaidh, M., Hodgson, A., (2012),Dugongs in Arabia,In: Sirenian Conservation: Issues and Strategies in Developing Countries, University Press of Florida, pages 91 to 98.
  • Aragones, L., Lawler, I., Marsh, H., Domning, D., Hodgson, A., (2012),The role of sirenians in aquatic ecosystems,In: Sirenian Conservation: Issues and Strategies in Developing Countries, University Press of Florida, pages 4 to 11.
  • Hodgson, A., (2011),Marine Mammals,In: Marine Atlas: Western Arabian Gulf, Saudi Aramco, pages 242 to 263.


  • Cleguer, C., Kelly, N., Tyne, J., Wieser, M., Peel, D., Hodgson, A., (2021), A Novel Method for Using Small Unoccupied Aerial Vehicles to Survey Wildlife Species and Model Their Density Distribution, Frontiers in Marine Science, 8, 462, pages -.
  • Greenwell, C., Born, K., Admiraal, R., Hodgson, A., Dunlop, N., Loneragan, N., (2021), Social facilitation for conservation planning: understanding fairy tern behavior and site selection in response to conspecific audio-visual cues, Endangered Species Research: international and multidisciplinary journal, 45, , pages 147 - 157.
  • Barnas, A., Chabot, D., Hodgson, A., Johnston, D., Bird, D., Ellis-Felege, S., (2020), A standardized protocol for reporting methods when using drones for wildlife research, Journal of Unmanned Vehicle Systems, 8, 2, pages 89 - 98.
  • Hodgson, A., Peel, D., Kelly, N., (2017), Unmanned aerial vehicles for surveying marine fauna: assessing detection probability, Ecological Applications, 27, 4, pages 1253 - 1267.
  • Maire, F., Alvarez, L., Hodgson, A., (2015), Automating Marine Mammal Detection in Aerial Images Captured During Wildlife Surveys: A Deep Learning Approach, Marine Mammal Science, 9457, 0, pages 379 - 385.
  • Hodgson, A., Kelly, N., Peel, D., (2013), Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) for Surveying Marine Fauna: A Dugong Case Study, PLoS One, 8, 11, pages 1 - 15.
  • Allen, S., Cagnazzi, D., Hodgson, A., Loneragan, N., Bejder, L., (2012), TROPICAL INSHORE DOLPHINS OF NORTH WESTERN AUSTRALIA UNKNOWN POPULATIONS IN A RAPIDLY CHANGING REGION, Pacific Conservation Biology: a journal dedicated to conservation and wildlife management in the Pacific region, 18, 42767, pages 56 - 63.
  • Bejder, L., Hodgson, A., Loneragan, N., Allen, S., (2012), Coastal dolphins in north-western Australia: The need for re-evaluation of species listings and short-comings in the Environmental Impact Assessment process, Pacific Conservation Biology: a journal dedicated to conservation and wildlife management in the Pacific region, 18, 42767, pages 22 - 25.
  • Hagihara, R., Jones, R., Sheppard, J., Hodgson, A., Marsh, H., (2011), Minimizing errors in the analysis of dive recordings from shallow-diving animals, Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology, 399, 2, pages 173 - 181.
  • Hodgson, A., (2007), "Blimp-cam": Aerial video observations of marine animals, Marine Technology Society Journal, 41, 2, pages 39 - 43.


  • Maire, F., Mejias, L., Hodgson, A., (2014),A convolutional neural network for automatic analysis of aerial imagery,In: 2014 International Conference on Digital Image Computing: Techniques and Applications (DICTA).
  • Maire, F., Mejias, L., Hodgson, A., Duclos, G., (2013),Detection of dugongs from unmanned aerial vehicles,In: IEEE/RSJ International Conference on Intelligent Robots and Systems (IROS) (2013).
  • Mejias, L., Duclos, G., Hodgson, A., Maire, F., (2013),Automated marine mammal detection from aerial imagery,In: 2013 OCEANS - San Diego.
Publications prior to Murdoch
  • Hodgson, A. (2009). Marine Mammals. Marine Atlas of Bahrain. R. A. Loughland and A. J. M. Zainal. Manama, Bahrain, GEOMATEC: 232-261.
  • Hodgson, A. (2007). ‘Blimp-cam’: aerial video observations of marine animals. Marine Technology Society Journal 41(2): 39-43.
  • Hodgson, A. J. and H. Marsh (2007). Response of dugongs to boat traffic: the risk of disturbance and displacement. Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology 340: 50-61.
  • Hodgson, A. J., H. Marsh, S. Delean and L. Marcus (2007). Is attempting to change marine mammal behaviour a generic solution to the bycatch problem? A dugong case study. Animal Conservation 10: 263-273.
  • Hodgson, A. J., Marsh, H. and Corkeron, P. J. (2004). Provisioning by tourists affects the behaviour but not the body condition of Mareeba rock-wallabies (Petrogale mareeba). Wildlife Research 31: 451-456.
  • Allen, S., Marsh, H. and Hodgson, A. (2004). Occurrence and conservation of the dugong (Sirenia: Dugongidae) in New South Wales. Proceedings of the Linnean Society of New South Wales 125: 211-216.
  • Hedley, S., Bannister, J., Bravington, M., Double, M., Du Fresne, S., Dunlop, R. A., Hodgson, A., Salgado Kent, C. and Smith, J. (2012). Survey plans to estimate absolute abundance of Breeding Stock D humpback whales off Western Australia. Paper SC/64/SH28 presented to the Scientific Committee of the International Whaling Commission, June 16. 10 pp.
  • Hodgson, A. J., M. Noad, H. Marsh, J. Lanyon and E. Kniest (2010). Using Unmanned Aerial Vehicles for surveys of marine mammals in Australia: test of concept. Hobart, Final Report to the Australian Marine Mammal Centre, Approved 9 June 2010. 76 pp.
  • Hodgson, A. J., H. Marsh, N. Gales, D. K. Holley and I. Lawler (2008). Dugong population trends across two decades in Shark Bay, Ningaloo Reef and Exmouth Gulf. Denham, Western Australia, WA Department of Environment and Conservation. 38 pp.
  • Hodgson, A. J. (2007). The distribution, abundance and conservation of dugongs and other marine megafauna in Shark Bay Marine Park, Ningaloo Reef Marine Park and Exmouth Gulf. Denham, Western Australia, WA Department of Environment and Conservation. 47 pp.