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Multidisciplinary Digital Aerial Mapping of the Marine Coastal Environment

There are a number of data gaps on the marine coastal environment which limits Ireland’s capacity to report to various EU Directives such as the Habitats and Birds Directives, MSFD and MSP.  These include the monitoring and assessment of coastal habitats and wildlife populations and assessing the effects of human activities on these features. Furthermore these ecological and landscape features are difficult to access and assess using traditional ground based survey methods. Recent developments in digital aerial monitoring, using high resolution camera systems and georeferenced image capture, opens the possibility of acquiring a range of data on coastal ecosystems using aerial survey. Adaptive survey design was used to acquire data at sample (transect) or census (100% ground coverage) level depending on objectives and the scale of the feature. 
Using vertically mounted camera systems on commissioned aircraft the following types of data was obtained on purpose designed surveys and using nested and adaptive survey designs. Estimates for wildlife populations are quantitative and  achieved by adjusting ground coverage in relation to the expected level of population aggregation and in the case of landscape mapping achieving 100% ground coverage. The entire range of data could potentially be acquired on a single survey depending on the features of interest within the survey area. The data are relevant to a number of end users including aquaculture compliance, NPWS wildlife status reporting, MI appropriate assessments and monitoring of interactions of fisheries and aquaculture with ecological features. Data was acquired on 
  1. Populations of seabirds at sea
  2. Populations of cetaceans and seals at sea
  3. Populations of highly aggregated populations
    a. Seabirds at colonies
    b. Seals at haul out
    c. Waterbird populations in intertidal habitats
  4. Coastal habitat landscape mapping
    a. Intertidal habitat mapping; mussel reef
    b. Vegetation mapping
    c. Vegetation health
  5. Topographic digital elevation data and models 
  6. Habitat use
    a. Assessment of fishing effort by static fishing gears at sea
    b. Aquaculture installations and habitat use; a rapid method to identify the real (site use) footprint of shellfish aquaculture
    c. Interactions of wildlife and human activities at sea

The project has a 3 year duration and ran between 2018 and 2020.

Project Outputs:

In 2018 the project delivered a survey of coastal areas of the Irish Sea from Dundalk to Skerries and off East Wexford to provide data on waterbird (intertidal) and seabird distribution and its relationship with fishing. The area supports important bivalve fisheries for razor clams, seed mussel and cockles but these fisheries may also deplete prey resources for species designated under the Birds Directive. The survey was in direct response to an appropriate assessment of the seed mussel fishery completed in 2018 which identified a gap in knowledge and a high uncertainty in the potential impact of bivalve fisheries on some bird species.

In 2019 and 2020 and in consultation with other end users such as NPWS, DAFM, Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government additional multi-disciplinary demonstration surveys were designed and completed to deliver data products relevant to end users in the areas of policy, regulation and monitoring.

Expected Benefit:
  • Improved reporting capacity for Natura 2000, MSFD, MSP.
  • Technology transfer from private sector to Marine Insitute re aerial survey methodology and analysis and management of high resolution and high volume images.
Further Information:
Contact Oliver Tully at
Project Cost - Projected:
Project Status: