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Drones used to map coastal litter on Malta's beaches

Oceanographers use hi-res aerial footage to track litter build up

Drone transects implemented at Qawra Point (left) and Baħar ic-Cagħaq (right).

Drone transects implemented at Qawra Point (left) and Baħar ic-Cagħaq (right).

Local oceanographers have used high resolution drone photographs to map the presence of litter on stretches of Maltese beaches, in what could prove to be a more efficient way of tracking beached litter and organising its clean-up. 

As part of the study, three coastal stretches within Malta's North-East Marine Protected Area at Baħar ic-Cagħaq and Qawra Point were regularly monitored via drone. Captured images were imported as high resolution Google Earth maps, allowing scientists to map litter density. 

Following a ground verification exercise, litter was then quantified as plastic, rope, wood, rubber or 'other'. 

Findings were published in the latest issue of the Marine Pollution Bulletin journal, in a paper co-authored by Alan Deidun, Adam Gauci and Serena Lagorio. The study formed part of Ms Lagorio's Masters in Applied Oceanography dissertation, a course offered by the Department of Geosciences which Prof. Deidun and Dr Gauci lecture at.  

According to ProfDeidun and Dr Gauci, the novel application of the aerial drone technology presented in this study represents a cost-effective alternative to traditional, time-consuming monitoring of beached litter involving extensive human resources, besides assisting in the monitoring of difficult-to-access coastal stretches and in prioritising coastal areas for future clean-up activities.

The study was made possible through funding made available by the Research Committee of the University of Malta.  

Litter was classified, with blue denoting plastics, green being rope, red for driftwood, black for rubber and white for all other non-natural items.Litter was classified, with blue denoting plastics, green being rope, red for driftwood, black for rubber and white for all other non-natural items.

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