Tidal wetland monitoring is critical for detecting changes and managing vulnerable coastal ecosystems. Monitoring programs typically combine ground-based measurements and satellite observations to track changes at small and large scales. Yet this approach misses important processes occurring at an intermediate spatial scale or resulting from discrete events such as extreme storms. Additional monitoring techniques that provide a fuller picture across spatial and temporal scales are key to better understanding the drivers of change in tidal wetlands. Fortunately, Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) - commonly known as drones - offer an extraordinary opportunity to radically improve tidal wetland monitoring programs. Drone-mounted sensors can provide high spatial resolution, coverage, and customization, and can be operated at user-defined times. This project will develop the first regionally-coordinated drone-based tidal wetlands monitoring protocol for the reserve system to complement existing long-term biotic monitoring and habitat mapping toolkits.
This project team will work with the six National Estuarine Research Reserves in the Southeast and Caribbean to develop, assess, and collaboratively refine a protocol for drone operation, data management, and data analysis. To meet the need for large-scale data archiving, sharing, and reproducibility, the team will create a standardized methodology for data collection, then pilot drone-based monitoring at Southeast and Caribbean reserves. Using ground-based validation, the project will assess the efficacy of new drone-collected imagery for estimating common tidal wetland monitoring parameters (such as percent cover), delineating boundaries and ecotones between habitat types, generating digital elevation models at intermediate spatial scales, and estimating vegetation biomass. This 18-month project will advance the adoption of drone-based tidal wetland monitoring across the Reserve System by addressing barriers to implementation, developing an actionable strategy for next steps, and proactively sharing findings with reserves and their partners.
Project Poster, NERRS Annual Meeting, Nov 2020