Keeping a closer eye on marine life thanks to Warrnambool researcher Sarah Murfitt

Eye on marine environments: Warrnambool PhD researcher Sarah Murfitt has been looking into using drones to monitor life such as algae and invertebrates in intertidal reefs. Picture: Supplied

Eye on marine environments: Warrnambool PhD researcher Sarah Murfitt has been looking into using drones to monitor life such as algae and invertebrates in intertidal reefs. Picture: Supplied

Researchers could keep better track of life in protected marine reefs thanks to a Warrnambool student’s work.

PhD student Sarah Murfitt from Deakin University’s Warrnambool campus is looking into the use of drones to monitor algae and invertebrates in marine environments.

The use of the technology could save scientists from having to spend hours in the field checking in on life forms in intertidal reefs.

“Currently the reef-monitoring requires teams of two or more people manually counting the algae or invertebrates that make up the intertidal community,” Ms Murfitt said.

“We’re hoping that through the use of drones we can reduce the time and costs of survey efforts, and use automated computer programs to classify the different species on the rocky shore.

“This would also help us to expand the intertidal reef surveys to larger areas of the rocky shore, rather than just collecting data across a small section of the reef.”

The student completed a Bachelor of Environmental Science (Marine Biology) from Deakin University’s Warrnambool campus.

A scholarship enabled Ms Murfitt to train for and obtain a remote pilot licence through the Civil Aviation Authority.

Through the use of drones, the researcher has created detailed maps of intertidal reefs at higher resolutions than would be possible using satellites or manned aircraft.

“We were able to identify dominant algal species across the rocky shore, and used topographical information collected by the drone to look at the influence of elevation, ruggedness and distance to the reef edge on the algae and invertebrate species,” Ms Murfitt said.

“We found that elevation and distance to reef edge were the most important environmental influences on where the species were found on the rocky shore.”

Ms Murfitt’s work has been published in the online journal Scientific Reports, and her research will influence monitoring procedures at Victorian marine parks and sanctuaries.

Currently the reef-monitoring requires teams of two or more people manually counting the algae or invertebrates that make up the intertidal community. - Sarah Murfitt

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