A Modern Kind of Odyssey: the First Assessment of Ocean Plastic Pollution using Drones

The Race for Water Odyssey has so far mapped and collected data from Grape Bay in Bermuda, Porto Pim, Conceição, and Praia do Almoxarife, on the Azores, and most recently Anakena, Ovahe and Tongariki on Easter Island, as well as several beaches on Hawaii (USA), using the senseFly eBee drone. Now find out what happens to the data after it has been collected.

Our world is changing drastically and conserving the environment we love for future generations is now a major priority. If we can establish a benchmark of what the world and its oceans look like at different points in time, we can begin to understand why and how changes are taking place.

© Race for Water 2015

Tracking such changes, particularly in geographically challenging areas, such as remote beaches and oceans, has traditionally been a very difficult and even at times a dangerous process. However, now with drones being able to collect aerial images and map inaccessible areas, the data and findings are as powerful as ever allowing us to make real changes.

© Race for Water 2015

The eBee aerial drone from Swiss drone company senseFly, producers of aerial imaging drones for professional applications, has been used to create and capture high-definition mapping of the beaches in the study. By using the innovative drones, researchers have been able to compare the obtained results with the research on the ground. The low-flying eBee has been and will continue to be used during the expedition for two purposes: allowing Duke University and Oregon State University to analyse the macro-trash that is present on the shores.

Carefully analysed and studied data

By launching an automated aerial imaging drone into the sky scientists are able to collect the aerial, geo-accurate images they need to assess damages in the environment. Once collected, the data needs to be processed and for the Race for Water Odyssey it is sent to Duke University Marine Lab, to be uploaded and analysed. You can have a look at this data here!

The flight paths and photographs taken are uploaded in the Postflight Terra 3D developed by senseFly to create geo-referenced 2D orthomosaics, 3D point clouds, triangle models and Digital Elevation Models (DEMs). A geo-referenced 2D orthomosaic is essentially a near real-time land-cover map that could be used to show what the land currently looks like and what is present, for example marine debris. Three dimensional point clouds are a set of data points in the same coordinate system and are defined by X, Y, and Z. This helps to show the external surface of the surveyed area. The Postflight Terra 3D software also creates a reflectance map of the surveyed area. This process is an effective image-based lighting technique for approximating the appearance of a reflective surface. It measures different bands of colour reflected such as red, green and blue displayingthem over the surveyed area.

The final flights of the Odyssey

© Race for Water 2015

Having left Easter Island and Hawaii, the expedition has now reached Asia, where it intends to collect data on several additional islands. After its stopovers in Tokyo and Shanghai, where its main objectives will be to raise awareness about the issue of plastic pollution in the ocean and to meet personalities who are active in this field, the R4WO will head to Koror (Paulau Archipelago), Chagos and Rodrigues (Mauritius) in order to deploy its scientific protocol and map some more beaches thanks to drone technology.

Stay tuned and discover more about the Race for Water Odyssey here!

Changing Planet


Meet the Author
The Race for Water Foundation is an organization dedicated to the preservation of water and the ocean in particular. This indispensable resource is under massive threat from pollution and must be protected. The Foundation aims to identify, promote and implement technological solutions to preserve the ocean. Race for Water remains committed and head back to sea with the Race for Water Odyssey : a 5-year expedition around the world dedicated to science and energy transition, using the ocean, the sun and the wind as its sole sources of energy