Jacksonville University Launching UAS to Study Health of Oyster Beds


The Marine Science Research Institute, the Department of Geography and the Environment, and the School of Aviation at Florida’s Jacksonville University (JU) are launching a project aimed at using drones to measure the health of local oyster beds.

With a campaign target of $4,300 and a few weeks left to raise funds on Experiment.com, the project, entitled “Mapping Northeast Florida Ecosystems with Unmanned Aircraft Systems,” is guided by Ross Stephenson, assistant professor of aeronautics.

Taking advantage of a graphics computer and Pix4D software, which will be acquired with funds raised, students and professors will partner to use the School of Aviation’s DJI Inspire 1 unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) to create orthomosaic maps and 3D models of northeast Florida oyster reefs.

JU says harvesting oysters in northeast Florida was halted when the monitoring stations used to assess the health of the beds were discontinued more than 15 years ago. There is growing interest in reopening the beds to commercial and recreational harvesting; additionally, developing a cost-effective method for monitoring the health of the oyster reefs without damage to the ecosytem is vital, says the university.

The maps and findings will be presented to the backers of the project, as well as partners for further analysis of the rate of growth of the reefs.

“This allows database information to be collected in an efficient and environmentally friendly manner,” Stephenson writes at Experiment.com. “UAS represent a low-carbon-footprint solution as compared to manned aircraft … Information gathered through this research will be used to assess changes to the reefs over time and make recommendations to governmental entities about reopening the oyster beds for harvesting.”

The students presented the project to the Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce for feedback in October, as well as created a 3D model of JU’s Davis College of Business in preparation for the project.

The project is part of Collaborate JU, which is facilitated by the university’s EPIC (Entrepreneurial, Policy, Innovation and Commerce) initiative.

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