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Broward County Enlists Drones to Help Keep Mosquitoes at Bay

The Florida county has begun using a drone to spray hard-to-reach areas to control mosquito populations more efficiently. Already in 2024, there have been seven cases of locally- acquired dengue virus.

a drone flying
A drone flying for Broward County mosquito control flies Tuesday, June 4, 2024, at Tree Tops Park in Davie. The county uses drones for vector control in hard to reach places.
(Joe Cavaretta/South Florida Sun Sentinel)
From vast parks to wetlands to conservation areas, Broward County, Fla., is now using a drone to spray for mosquitoes in hard-to-reach places.

The drone hits the air with a payload of about 15 pounds of spray, enough to cover 3 acres at a time. “It’s a huge difference,” says Cody Cash, an employee for Daytona Beach-based Leading Edge Aerial Technologies, which rents Broward the drone.

Until now, crews could spend days covering a single territory that’s inaccessible by truck, wading in mud, armed with a machete to get past bushy trees.

“These poor guys who have to go in there,” lamented Anh Ton, director of Broward’s Highway & Bridge Maintenance Division, a division of the county’s Public Works Department, which oversees its Mosquito Control Division.

Now, the drone is traveling to where the breed of mosquitoes called Aedes (a Greek word that means unpleasant) aegypti lay their eggs. It’s the predominant type of mosquito in South Florida and a vector of several viruses, including yellow fever virus, dengue virus, chikungunya and Zika virus.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention call mosquitoes the “world’s deadliest animal” because the diseases they transmit are responsible for more than 700,000 deaths worldwide every year.

In 2024, there have been seven cases of locally acquired dengue; one case was in Pasco County and the other six in Miami-Dade, according to the Florida Department of Health’s most recent weekly report.

Broward County started using drones more than two years ago for surveillance only, to pinpoint where the spraying needed to happen, Ton said. County engineers experimented with mosquito traps and vacant park land and dropped spray from the sky. “We had been thinking about this for quite awhile,” Ton said.

The pilot worked with a “significant reduction after the drone” strike. But in 2023, the drone use went beyond surveillance to begin spraying.

The county rents the spraying-abled drone for about $3,000 a month.

The drones are a good middle ground between people on land and using helicopters and planes — both of which are invasive in neighborhoods.

His company has more than 15 clients in Florida and California, and serves dozens more for small-scale herbicide operations.

He recently helped with a mission over a section of Tree Tops Park in Davie. About 100 acres could be treated in four hours by drone, Cash said, versus a “guy would be out there for two to four days depending on wetness level.”

A drone can fly for about three minutes — it’s path plotted with the surveillance drone — and then returns, the battery switched, the product reloaded, and “off it goes again,” Ton said.

The county is targeting standing water, which is the breeding ground for the mosquitoes.

Other Efforts

The use of the drone has been one of the most recent ways to battle the mosquitoes.

County engineers unveiled an invention last year: a 3,000-pound system to reduce liquid mosquito larvicide spray into particles to reach the “perfect droplet size” to help them go farther.

The county previously spent about $7 million over a June-to-October mosquito season to spray countywide, since the mosquito needs water to breed and multiply. That new machine, carried on a truck, cuts that cost in half, although the season has been extended from April to November in the last decade, as temperatures rise and mosquito reproduction increases.

Ton said the cases of mosquito-created dengue in Miami-Dade worry him.

“We know it’s coming and we know it’s coming our way and the best way to prevent dengue is to reduce the mosquito population.”

©2024 South Florida Sun-Sentinel. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
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