3 Tools to run marine research on a budget

Marine Research Projects are generally not a cheap project – Running ships, technical equipment and a crew to handle everything comes at a cost. And the deeper you want to explore the bigger the price tag generally becomes. But there are a couple of tools you can use for research projects that can come in handy at a (in comparison) small budget. So without further due let’s get right into it:

Use a Drone for Marine Habitat Mapping

Drones (the flying ones) have become widely available in many places around the world and while they were outrageously priced for a long time by now you can purchase a medium quality drone for less than 1000 Euros. In our specific case, we bought a “DJI Mavic Pro”, because we could get it second hand but also it folds down into a neat little package to store away on the boat, certainly a benefit if you are (like us) on a limited space.

While drones are lots of fun they can also be used for more than just getting nice videos and we already made experiences with different tools to utilise those powers:

2D Mapping with a Drone

Our first experience making maps with our Mavic Pro was fuelled by an app named “Precision mapper”. The online-based platform also comes with a designated app for your phone/tablet to plan your mapping process with: It boils down to simply outlining the area you want to map, choosing what height you want the drone to fly in and letting it do its thing. After finishing the mission it will come back and land (hopefully) near you.

Ones the pictures are taken (generally 3 pictures of each spot on the map) you need to upload them directly to the website (precisionmapper.com) and wait. The Processing takes about a day before you can download your kml file – which can be overplayed on GIS, Google Maps etc. Great tool with the drawback that all you get is a map layer in really high quality (but at that stage little information)

3D Mapping with a Drone

And this is where things get pretty interesting: While a map is a good start taking it into a 3rd dimension is a massive improvement. Every drone is recording a lot of information aside from the video (needs to be activated in the settings) all the time, meaning while you fly and record a video it knows how high above the ground and where in the world it is. With this information and a video, you can already create 3D images of the area you are recording with the help of Hive Mapper (www.hivemapper.com). Great start but little organised. 

If you want to step up your game you can download the “Litchi” app (Comes at 25USD but can be refunded if used for mapping purposes). In the app (or even online on their website) you can again plan a full flight path or pattern to record the desired area and let the drone fly its own mission. Ones returned the video files and flight path are uploaded on the website and a 3D map gets created. In the map, you got a couple of extra features. 

In our case, the “changes” are the interesting bit. It basically means you can make the same map several times and let it show you what changed (more trees, new buildings or – what we look for – vanished or newly grown seagrass meadows)! While the water is always considered a level (so 3D is not happening below the surface) the colour changes are still recognised!

Underwater Video Transects

While the idea of taking video underwater is not at all new there are ways to improve the idea:

Sofar Ocean is the Company of “Trident ROV” which is low priced with the biggest capabilities on the market. Can easily be ordered online – btw: If you use the Code “Manaia” you can even get a small extra discount. 

The ROV basically gives you a 3-4 hours time frame to record the video below the water. With a maximum depths of 100m, it massively increases the reach to a SCUBA diver and also gives more time! In addition, you can record (and stream to the surface) HD Video and (optional) record depth, temperature, heading and more information directly in the video for later analysis! While it is a lot of fun to simply “fly” the ROV it is easy to steer and get great quality content with little practice. And you can make “standardized” transects for the areas you want to compare. You can also find a few examples of video transects and a good test of the ROV on our YouTube channel (www.youtube.com/projectmanaia).

Involve Citizen Scientists

We are always just as good as our communication, which in return means we have to be able to convince people that we are doing something amazing! That again means people should be able and willing to help us.

In our case, a focus lies on seagrass and invasive species. So basically every diver/snorkeler could potentially see something of interest in our work. And they might even be willing and able to give that information back to us.

What I am trying to say here is this: Give interested people an easy way to support your work! We set up something as simple as a google form on our website where you can submit sightings of invasive species in the Mediterranean (www.projectmanaia.at – projects – invasive Species) and we collect them all and again share them with everyone who is interested in the project and wants to help out in any way possible.

However: Whatever your project and interest might be, think about the easiest way possible how ideally everyone can pass the information on to you in a way that does not create lots of extra work for you but also is well usable! And the form was our solution for this!

And this is it – 3 ways to run Marine Research Projects on a budget. If you like this make sure to come back for more content in the future!

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