Scott Nesbit

Undergraduate Geography Student
University of Wisconsin - Eau Claire

Student Scholarship Winner Presentation

Mapping Subtidal Eelgrass Beds using Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS)


Abstract: Eelgrass (Zostera marina) is a type of submerged aquatic vegetation which has the ability to improve water quality, provide vital habitat to various marine species, prevent costal erosion, and sequester carbon. The extent of eelgrass meadows can change dramatically over time, both increasing and decreasing, with an overall trend of decline in the past 100 years. The decline of eelgrass is attributed to numerous factors, including excessive nutrient runoff, structures preventing sunlight to reach the plants, boat props, boat mooring, shellfish harvesting practices, and rising ocean temperatures. Monitoring and mapping eelgrass meadows is critical for the conservation and restoration of these valuable habitats, but current monitoring methods are costly, labor intensive and can be error prone. Previous mapping attempts are plagued with erroneous locations of eelgrass.

Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) or drones are quickly emerging as effective tools for aerial data collection. This investigation will determine the feasibility of using UAS to accurately map eelgrass locations using DJI Phantom 3 Advanced along the Massachusetts coastline. Additionally, the research develops a best practice workflow and procedures for the collection, processing, classification and analysis of the data. Results from the research will provide agencies with a means to monitor the distribution and abundance of eelgrass with a higher temporal frequency, while being more cost and time efficient than other data collection methods.


Bio: Senior Environmental Geography Major at the University Wisconsin Eau Claire. Research was completed in partnership with MIT Sea Grant and The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration via the Hollings Scholarship Program.


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