Embry-Riddle, UCF partner to examine how UAS can be used to map oyster reefs

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With a focus on 21 oyster reefs near Edgewater, Florida, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University and the University of Central Florida (UCF) have partnered to develop methodologies for remotely mapping regions that are difficult, and expensive, to monitor on site.

The goal of the research is to utilize UAS to collect different types of information while surveying the reefs, without ever visiting the locations in person.

If the project is successful, it would represent progress, signaling a clear change in the way environmental data has traditionally been collected, according to Dr. Dan Macchiarella, professor of Aeronautical Science.

“The alternative to remotely sensing is to physically travel to a location, and in the case of oyster beds, many are located in hard-to-access areas, like the middle of mangrove tree stands,” Macchiarella says.

“There are other applications for remote sensing to sample wildlife, too, including using the technology to locate fish nests in remote river locations.”

The project is Embry-Riddle’s first partnership with UCF’s National Center for Integrated Coastal Research. The entities note that while this technology is centered on coastal mapping, it can also be used for other applications, such as monitoring elephant herds in Tanzania, as part of an anti-poaching program.

The entities also note that UAS images are currently 60 times more detailed than even the best visual data captured by Google Earth, so possibilities will continue to expand in the U.S. as the FAA moves toward “effective integration of UAS into the National Airspace System.”

“In the future, more and more environmental-monitoring tasks will be accomplished using UAS, due to the inherent mobility, aerial perspective and cost efficiencies of these systems,” Macchiarella says.