Drone monitoring of intertidal zones

Drones hovering over the South Eastern Outfall at Boags Rocks, Gunnamatta, are doing more than just capturing images of Victoria’s picturesque eastern coastline. They are also monitoring the environmental health of the area.

Drone monitoring

Melbourne Water is trialling drone technology as part of its commitment to using the latest technology to solve complex problems. In this instance, drones are capturing the increase of Hormosira Banksii, the seaweed commonly known as Neptune’s Necklace, around the outfall. The seaweed is a useful environmental indicator and there has been a noticeable increase in its growth since the upgrades to the Eastern Treatment Plant in 2012.

Ecosystem mapping plays a vital role in measuring changes to the environment as a result of discharge at outfalls. Since 2006, we’ve been progressively mapping the intertidal zones around the outfall at Boags Rocks, and other sites along the coast. Until now, we have relied on a more labour intensive and physically challenging manual process in which experts survey the rock formations at monitoring sites with a handheld GPS.

Although our team are highly experienced, with in-depth knowledge of tidal conditions and other potential hazards, replacing the majority of this manual surveying with drone photography and analysis will significantly reduce the risks to those doing the measurement. It will also be more time and cost efficient. While some areas will still need to be manually surveyed to calibrate the drone images, we estimate that our manual sampling workload may be reduced by as much as 90 percent.

Data from the drone monitoring trial is currently being assessed against the data mapped in the traditional way to determine its accuracy. If it is as robust as our traditional monitoring, we will use drones to carry out this work wherever possible.

Last updated:
19 April 2021