New mapping tools helping to protect seagrass in Dorset - University of Southampton

The team completed scientific dives on the seagrass bed
The team completed scientific dives on the seagrass bed

Could using autonomous systems and artificial intelligence (AI) help marine conservation?

Researchers and engineers from the University of Southampton are working together by using geospatial autonomous mapping tools and AI technology to survey and assess the health of seagrass beds in Studland Bay, Dorset.

Seagrass is a flowering plant which lives in seawater and forms meadows in the seabed. They are an important ecosystem offering habitat and nursing grounds to diverse species, and due to their capability to capture and store carbon, can help protect coastlines by stabilizing the seabed to reduce flooding.

The project, funded by the Southampton Geospatial initiative, involves deploying autonomous vessels capable of mapping the seagrass bed using cameras and acoustics.

The data will be collected and used to build a 3D digital map of the seabed and assess the health of the seagrass beds and extent of damage caused by boat anchors.

The state-of-the-art data is needed to inform nature-based solutions for coastal protection and habitat conservation in the Studland Bay Marine Conservation Zone.

Dr Hachem Kassem, Principal Investigator for the project, said: “It’s been great to work with different partners to come up with a much needed dataset that will really have an impact in terms of managing and conserving the seagrasses in the bay.”

Supporting the local community

The seagrass beds are within the Studland Bay Marine Conservation Zone. Working with organisations from the Studland Bay Marine Partnership, the team will share the data with the local community and assist efforts to protect this important habitat.

Hachem added: “Our work will support the local community and organisations that manage the area, to implement an appropriate conservation strategy to protect and promote the health of these seagrass meadows.

“This is vital as seagrasses help protect against coastal erosion and flooding, are incredibly efficient at capturing and storing carbon, as well as being a crucial habitat for a variety of species.”

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Posted On: 24/08/2022

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