Drone mapping Tahiti’s bursting-at-the-seams cemetery

drone mapping cemetery

Drones have been useful in a lot of ways across the globe, but this one has to be pretty rare – or at least one hopes so. The municipality of Faa‘a in Tahiti is deploying a drone to conduct a mapping survey of occupied, free, and recuperable plots in order to find space solutions in its maxed-out cemetery.

Faa‘a’s Saint-Hilaire graveyard has nearly reached capacity. That saturation is due in part by the recent spike of fatalities provoked by the COVID-19 virus, which generated about 10 daily burials during the last wave. But its over-population also appears to have arisen from some debatably lax record keeping over the decades, which may have left current maps of the cemetery somewhat wanting. To resolve what has now become a pressing problem in dealing with the region’s past and future dearly departed, Faa‘a officials have decided to hire a drone services company to produce a precise aerial map of the compound to help them decide what remedial steps to take.

For the moment, that won’t involve anything quite as technical as subterranean remains-identifying LiDAR scans of the graveyard. Instead, the drone will gradually compose a visual 3D map of the cemetery to allow managers to see where green spaces exist between burial plots. After comparing those images with existing manually drawn maps (and their own eye-balling amid the headstones), graveyard authorities will determine which areas are actually unoccupied and free to deceased newcomers.

And what about the less available spots from which daisies are being pushed? That bit requires a new paragraph, and a deep breath.

“If someone is beneath it, that means they’ve been there for more than 20, 30 years, and it’s an untended space,” Vatea Heller, head of the Saint-Hilaire cemetery told FranceTVInfo. “We’ll therefore compact the body, and place it in the depository awaiting the family coming to reclaim it.”

As far as evictions go, that’s pretty brutal, but Faa‘a doesn’t have a lot of choice. Its cemetery has a total of 2,315 plots, only 20 of which are currently available. With COVID-19-era deaths in the region averaging about 100 per year, the facility can’t possibly keep up without better knowledge and management of the graveyard’s 17.3 acres.

In addition to mapping the area, officials are also appealing to locals to present familial titles to plots. Others whose occupants are no longer known to or claimed by anyone can then be relocated. To that end, Faa‘a is building 800 above-ground entombment slots for current and future residents who don’t manage to obtain ­­­– or remain beneath – turf of their very own.

Yet to be determined is whether the operation should be classified as “drones for good,” or “drones for the gone.” Probably both.

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