Sharks, scientists and tech innovators team up to protect marine ecosystems
Hexagon’s sustainability business venture R-evolution is leading the way in accelerating the transition to a sustainable global economy by identifying and attracting capital to finance business opportunities that benefit the environment and society.
For one project, R-evolution takes advantage of cutting-edge bathymetric solutions from Leica Geosystems, part of Hexagon, to promote decarbonisation, the protection of coastal ecosystems and the preservation of biodiversity.
The world has seen an exponential increase in carbon emissions, resulting in drastic changes to the climate and threatening life on Earth. One powerful resource nature has at its disposal for keeping carbon dioxide levels at bay are carbon sinks. For too long, however, the carbon discussion has centred around land-based carbon sinks, such as forests, while neglecting the largest global storage depot of the planet: the ocean.
Blue carbon ecosystems refer to coastal and marine vegetated habitats, such as seagrass meadows, salt marshes and mangrove forests that sequester and store carbon from the atmosphere and ocean. Seagrass, in particular, captures carbon dioxide more efficiently than forests on land. And, since most carbon is stored in soil and sediments, it can remain there for millennia if left undisturbed.
Despite their crucial role in mitigating climate change, seagrass meadows remain among the least recognised and least protected ecological habitats. The lack of data on the distribution of seagrass meadows poses a significant obstacle to conservation and restoration efforts.
You can't protect what you don't measure
In the Bahamas, home of a large seagrass ecosystem and a designated shark sanctuary, scientists studying sharks' movements on behalf of conservation NGO Beneath the Waves made an unexpected discovery: Tiger sharks spend a large portion of their life patrolling and foraging dense seagrass meadows. Using this insight, the organisation leveraged a combination of sensor-tagged sharks, satellite data, marine vessel surveys and scuba divers to drive the ongoing discovery and map the extensive seagrass meadows of the Caribbean.
The conservancy's mapping project was an essential first step in learning more about the little-known ocean habitat. Yet to protect and restore the blue carbon sinks, the conservancy's findings needed to be validated with high-positional accuracy and datasets that can provide efficient, year-on-year change detection and monitoring. Hexagon's sustainability business venture R-evolution has thus teamed up with Beneath the Waves to map, study and quantify the threatened seagrass meadows of the Caribbean islands at scale.
Bathymetric surveying supports environmental monitoring by mapping and classifying submerged vegetation and habitat to assess aquacultures and study marine ecology and hydrodynamics. R-evolution is leveraging Hexagon's airborne bathymetric LiDAR technologies to capture details about the vital habitat, including its extent and composition. Thanks to the Chiroptera 4X, Leica Geosystems’ airborne bathymetry solution for cost-effective and rapid surveying of large areas, thousands of square kilometres of seabed habitats at up to 30 metres of water depth could be accurately mapped in just a few days. The high-resolution point clouds provide 3D elevation and land classification information with higher positional accuracy and spatial resolutions than the 2D coverage of satellite data.
The recently launched Leica Chiroptera-5 combines superior resolution, depth penetration and topographic sensitivity to generate even more detailed hydrographic maps. This new sensor provides an invaluable source of information for various applications that support better decision making for environmental monitoring and management. Repeated bathymetric LiDAR mapping provides an excellent basis for year-on-year change detection and monitoring.
By combining the marine expertise of Beneath The Waves with the innovation and technological know-how of Hexagon, the collaborative project expects to yield groundbreaking results for blue carbon conservation. The project offers an opportunity to stop degradation and generate new value streams simultaneously.
Apart from connecting three disparate actors, this project links sustainability with profits. Mapping and classifying the seabed at scale is a crucial first steps toward preserving seagrass meadows that provide blue carbon storage. Hexagon’s Geosystems division normalises the data by fusing various sources of information and thus enables feeding algorithms that can automatically identify sea-bed types, vegetation species and density.