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New frontiers of underwater monitoring: ISPRA get in the game!

The technological innovations of monitoring passes through REEForest project!

It is quite “easy” to fly over a forest and get data on how trees make it up, just as it is relatively simple to organise an expedition to collect samples in most terrestrial environments.

But when the environment you want to study is underwater, how do you do it?

Finding new ways to monitor a place where humans cannot stay as much as they need and, above all, cannot see almost anything from the distance is both challenging and stimulating.

Three researchers from ISPRA (Italian Institute for Environmental and Environmental Research), experts in marine environmental monitoring, have just returned from one of their many missions in the Cilento National Park to carry out investigations using aerial drones and underwater cameras. The objective is both simple and complex to achieve: mapping the meadows of the brown alga Cystoseira on the seabed.

Aerial drones, equipped with high-resolution cameras, are important tools for investigating natural and man-made environments, and make it possible to scout vast areas, even “impervious” ones (such as reefs), quickly and by acquiring high quality, georeferenced information and images at relatively low cost.

Drones were used in association with underwater cameras and cameras that can validate in the field the presence of a specific underwater habitat detected by the drone. The georeferenced, high-resolution images obtained are briefly processed to enable a detailed mapping of marine habitats. The processing of the images, the generation of orthomosaics and other georeferenced products and their classification requires the use of specific software by qualified personnel with specific technical-scientific expertise.

The surveys for REEForest are carried out each spring in Santa Maria di Castellabbate MPA, particular in the Gulf of Ogliastro and Punta Licosa, areas where Cystoseira grasslands are naturally present.

The spring season was chosen because it is the main period of reproduction of this alga and the maximum biomass is generally detected, which therefore makes this alga more easily detectable through drone surveys.

We are experimenting with this integrated survey technique between drones and underwater images in order to provide a useful, effective and fast tool for the environmental monitoring of Cystoseira habitats.

This activity will make it possible to provide operational indications and a specific methodological protocol for carrying out surveys to identify this alga species and classify it for mapping purposes; these survey techniques will subsequently be transferred to various users in other Marine Protected Areas.

Pretty sure these techniques combined with the regular underwater monitoring involving divers can help us to increasingly  discovery the secrets of Cystoseira species, ultimately leading to the improvement of our restoration effectiveness!

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Co-funded by the European Union. Views and opinions expressed are however those of the author(s) only and do not necessarily reflect those of the European Union or CINEA. Neither the European Union nor the granting authority can be held responsible for them.
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