On a picture-perfect day in late November, John Yanchoris, 54, launches his drone from atop a trash can along the Dunedin Causeway with a whoosh. He maneuvers the tiny device to about 100 feet in the air off the intracoastal waters near Hurricane Pass, searching for marine life and people enjoying the sun and water.
Earlier this year, Yanchoris captured stunning video of a great hammerhead shark surrounded by black tip sharks while swimming along a sandbar near Hurricane Pass. The sandbar is popular with boaters and kayakers. The shark was estimated to be approximately 8 feet long. Great hammerheads can grow to be 19 feet as adults.
When Hurricane Idalia swept by the area in August, Yanchoris noticed that most marine life was nowhere to be found.
“I saw nothing. It took a good two weeks before I saw something again.”
Yanchoris works for Bon Appetit Restaurant and helps to set up chairs for weddings along the beach, and in the summertime, he readies chairs and umbrellas for rent. After Idalia, Yanchoris’ supervisor asked him to fly over Honeymoon State Park to survey any damage. The park had been closed to the public during the storm. He captured video of sand covering the north parking lot and erosion caused by storm surge.
Yanchoris became interested in drones after watching a YouTube video and then seeing someone using one along the Dunedin Causeway. He flies a DJI Mini 3 Pro drone that can capture high quality video in 4K resolution. He prefers to fly in the morning and knows exactly where to look for marine life. Yanchoris has captured videos of sharks, dolphins, manatees and spotted eagle rays gliding along the water.
“There is a big sandbar right off the causeway. I’ll shoot straight out there in the summertime, especially in the morning, and I’ll see people kayaking. There will be sharks swimming right under the people and they don’t even know it.”
Yanchoris knows where he isn’t allowed to launch and fly. According to the Florida State Parks website, launching or landing a drone is prohibited on state park land, and only in rare circumstances are drones allowed. That is why Yanchoris uses the Dunedin Causeway. Flying over the water near Honeymoon Island is allowed.
“I wrecked my drone about two weeks ago right here in the water due to technical problems. I have insurance so I was able to get another one,” Yanchoris said.
Yanchoris launches his drone almost daily.
“Since I have to drive over the causeway to get to work at Honeymoon Island, I fly for 15 minutes or so, then head to work,” Yanchoris said.
He has a bucket list of things he’d like to see with the drone.
“I would love to capture some video of a shark going after some food,“ Yanchoris said while looking toward the water. “You never know what you are going to see.”