On the use of drones to detect and map marine macro-litter on the North Atlantic Portuguese beach-dune systems: the experiences of UAS4Litter project
Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS, aka drones) are being used to map marine macro-litter on the coast. Within the UAS4Litter project, the application of UAS has been applied on three sandy beach-dune systems on the wave-dominated North Atlantic Portuguese coast. Several technical solutions have been tested in terms of drone mapping performance, manual image screening and marine litter map analysis. The conceptualization and implementation of a multidisciplinary framework allowed to improve and making more efficient the mapping of marine litter items with UAS on coastal environment. The location of major marine litter loads within the monitored areas were found associated to beach slope and water level dynamics on the beach profiles. Moreover, the abundance of marine pollution was related to the geographical location and level of urbanization of the study sites. The testing of machine learning techniques underlined that automated technique returned reliable abundance map of marine litter, while manual image screening was required for a detailed categorization of the items. As marine litter pollution on coastal dunes has received limited scientific attention when compared with sandy shores, a novel non-intrusive UAS-based marine litter survey have been also applied to quantify the level of contamination on coastal dunes. The results showed the influence of the different dune plant communities in trapping distinct type of marine litter, and the role played by wind and overwash events in defining the items pathways through the dune blowouts. The experiences on the Portuguese coast show that UAS allows an integrated approach for marine litter mapping, beach morphodynamic and nearshore hydrodynamic, setting the ground for marine litter dynamic modelling on the shore. Besides, UAS can give a new impulse to coastal dune litter monitoring, where the long residence time of marine debris threat the bio-ecological equilibrium of these ecosystems.