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International Research Project between Taiwan and Australia --
"How to Map Sesagrass and Measure Its Health by Capturing The Colours of The Rainbow Underwater"

Project Title: Premier's Research Industry Fund project -- "Advanced Sensors for Water Quality Management"
Project Dates: 2013 - May 2016

NCKU is involved in an exciting international high-technology collaborative environmental research project between Taiwan and Australia and to test and develop underwater, airborne and satellite optical technology to map the seagrass and coastal reef community in parts of the marine coast of Gulf St Vincent near Adelaide in South Australia.

Thr project has been running for 3 years and is a partnership between the National Cheng Kung University, the Australian Water Quality Centre and the Instrument Technology Research Centre, NARLabs.

The project is producing some very exciting results and has been testing what are referred to as "remote monitoring" or "remote sensing" technologies for their application in water quality monitoring and to introduce these techniques to South Australian government agencies who carry out environmental assessment on the health of the marine ecosystem in the coastal areas near the city of Adelaide.

There are more than 9,500km² of seagrass along coastline in South Australia, which provide an essential and fantastic habitat to a wide range of marine species such as fish, crabs and sea urchins. The seagrass is also important to stabilise the seabed to prevent erosion and sand movement. However, the Adelaide metropolitan coast has lost in excess of 50 km² of seagrasses over the past 80 years, and seagrass distribution is mapped every 5 years by the the state government agencies in South Australia to assess how this is changing and to work on the best approaches for the management of land-based discharges of wastewater and stormwater which affect the seagrasses. This mapping is traditionally recorded using aerial photography,which has been costly and also suffers from the problems associated with image acquisition from air, such as glare at the water surface, compromised signal in deep waters and seafloor interference in shallow waters.

This project
The partners in this project are:

  • The National Cheng Kung University and the Instrument Technology Research Centre in Taiwan. NCKU is ranked as one of the top two universities in Taiwan and is among the leading universities in Asia in recent surveys in Taiwan and Asia. The Instrument Technology Research Centre is a specialist technical group who build advanced experimental measuring instruments for government and industry.
  • The Australian Water Quality Centre, which is a business unit of SA Water and is internationally renowned centre for water quality research.
  • National Cheng Kung University (NCKU) is a long-standing collaborator and research partner with SA Water. NCKU is a close partner and is working together with the ITRC who have internationally-recognised expertise in the development and application of innovative optical monitoring sensors ( The Australian Water Quality Centre (AWQC) and NCKU collaboration, in particular with the Department of Environmental Engineering, goes back to 2004 and includes many major joint projects and exchange visits.

    What we have done so far:

  • ITRC have built 2 versions (Mk1 & Mk2) of an underwater hyperspectral scanner which have now been tested in Australia and used to collect images and colour "spectral signatures" of seagrass off the coast near Adelaide
  • Previously this underwater hyperspectral scanner had been used to map coral reefs in Taiwan
  • This is the first time seagrass has been mapped underwater in Australia with this type of scanner - which is really like a very advanced digital camera with some special features.
  • Unlike a normal camera that sees a blend of 3 colours (red, green and blue) the hypespectral scanner can see every colour of the rainbow and records it as it moves along over the seafloor towed behind a boat in a special sled.
  • What we plan to do next:

  • We plan to do some more mapping underwater in spring of 2016 to check our first batch of "spectral libraries" which allow us to distinguish between different types of seagrass (2 dofferent species) and sand and rock in the background.
  • Our next challenge is to literally "take it to the next level" - we are discussiong whether we can build another "Mini-hyperspectral scanner".
  • This "Minihyper" will be small enough in size and weight to be carried by an unmanned aerial vehicle (a UAV or drone) above the water to eventually do more extensive, cheaper and quicker mapping.
  • Drones are the flavour of the month - and for good reason: they are economical and really do offer an inexpensive aircraft to carry this type of sophisticated sensor - but only if you can make it small enough.
  • We plan to test the "Minihyper" in the air and the underwater hyperspectral scanner from the boat together at the same time and compare the images above and below the water.
  • If successful we propose to bring this technology to South Australia to improve seagrass mapping of the Adelaide coastline.
  • The novel aspect of this work is the use of an underwater sensor towed behind a boat that can generate a 'spectral' map and be correlated to the above surface sensors carried by aircraft and satellites to build large scale maps for more efficient monitoring. The use of optical digital remote monitoring using an "eye-in-the-sky" is one of the genuine future technology opportunities for future environmental condition assessment and is a great opportunity for for the partnership between Taiwan and Australia.

    Courtesy of National Cheng Kung University and Australian Water Quality Centre at SA Water

    2016/6/23 updated