A new study led by scientists from the University of Stirling will explore the possibility of using satellite and drone technology to monitor the spread of aquatic weeds.
Funded by the Royal Academy of Engineering, the study will utilise the technologies to identify and monitor the weeds in neglected and inaccessible areas of India.
The invasive plants can cause severe damage and degradation to water bodies; potentially damaging local infrastructure and having negative impacts on fisheries, drinking water sources, agricultural irrigation, rice cultivation, the navigation of boats and recreational activities.
The project addresses three of The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals: Zero hunger, clean water and sanitation, and life below water.
Experts from the University of Strathclyde will make up the team, along with three additional partners based in India: The National Institute of Plant Health Management, the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics, and Sanatana Dharma College, under the University of Kerala.
Dr Savitri Maharaj, Lecturer in Computing Science, commented: “Invasive aquatic weeds are a massive problem affecting many parts of Asia and Africa, causing a significant detrimental impact on water and food resources. They block streams and lakes, destroy fisheries, harbour mosquitoes dangerous to human health, contribute to biodiversity loss in aquatic ecosystems, and cause many other adverse impacts too.
“Attempts to control the weed usually involve manual or mechanical removal, however, it is impossible to remove all traces completely and it regenerates from left-behind seeds and fragments.
“Therefore, the problem is small, neglected and inaccessible side streams and pools remains undetected until the spread is extensive and has reached economically important water bodies – which become infested and damaged.
“Early detection of regrowth has the potential to cut the cost of control by allowing the weed to be removed before it reaches a damaging level.
“We will investigate how state-of-the-art technology – including satellites, drones and ground sensors – can facilitate early detection and, ultimately, help to monitor and tackle this important social and environmental problem.”
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The project focuses on the Kuttanad basin in central Kerala, India, where agriculture and tourism industries depend heavily on local lakes and rivers – all of which are significantly infested with water hyacinth.
Data collected will provide extensive coverage of the bodies of water – and the team will conduct pilot trials and ensure the sustainability of results through training and dissemination activities.