New UCC research finds drones can battle pollution and combat illegal fishing

A research team from University College Cork says drones could monitor at-risk heritage sites and areas at risk of erosion too
New UCC research finds drones can battle pollution and combat illegal fishing

Clew Bay, Co Mayo captured from a drone. Such images are being used to assess seaweed stocks in the area, supporting aquaculture and carbon stock assessments. Picture: Samuel Hayes

New research has found drones could play an important role in supporting the development of sustainable practices along the Irish coast and help to aid the monitoring of pollution, erosion, and new viruses.

Battling pollution, combating illegal fishing, and monitoring heritage sites at risk of erosion are just some of the ways drones can be used to protect our coastlines, a new study from University College Cork (UCC) researchers has found.

As part of the research, the team at UCC reviewed close to 100 real-world applications where drones have been used along the coast.

Each application was evaluated to provide an accessibility ranking in terms of cost and ease of use to identify possible sustainable practices that could be implemented.

In order to make the topic more accessible to coastal managers, Dr Samuel Hayes of UCC said they provided a simple overview of the technology, categorised their applications with a focus on sustainable development, and provided criteria to show how easily and affordably the equipment can be adopted.

“The speed of development in drone technology means it can be difficult for many people to appreciate its current potential," Dr Hayes said.

Number of uses

The research team found drones could contribute data and information to support organisations in achieving 10 of the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals, which includes the sustainable use of the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development. Picture: Samuel Hayes
The research team found drones could contribute data and information to support organisations in achieving 10 of the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals, which includes the sustainable use of the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development. Picture: Samuel Hayes

The team found drones have a number of uses including monitoring illegal fishing activity, identifying new viruses from marine mammals, monitoring plastic pollution to support beach clean-ups, and documenting cultural heritage sites that are at risk from erosion and rising sea-levels.

In addition, they also found drones could contribute data and information to support organisations in achieving 10 of the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals, which includes the sustainable use of the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development.

Lead author Dr Sarah Kandrot said the important research raises awareness of new and innovative applications of drone technology which can be applied by stakeholders for their own activities.

“The fact that drone technology can support such a diverse range of sustainable activities at the coast is important for protecting our environment for future generations” added Dr Paul Holloway of UCC.

“Our team is currently working closely with numerous stakeholders to develop training material to demonstrate just how effective technology can be in supporting long-term planning that promotes a sustainable future.” 

Previous examples of where drones have been successfully used to monitor bird and marine mammal populations can be seen in Ireland with more than 450 gull nests identified on building rooftops in three seaside towns in Fingal, Dublin, in 2018, supporting conservation and human-wildlife conflict management.

The group’s findings are borne out of the COAST project, which is funded by the Northern Periphery and Arctic Programme.

Several case-studies are currently being applied in Ireland and beyond.

The findings are published in the journal Estuaries and Coasts.

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