Loughborough University
Remote Sens Ecol Conserv - 2023 - Schiele - Using water‐landing fixed‐wing UAVs and computer vision to assess seabird (1) (1).pdf (7.14 MB)

Using water-landing, fixed-wing UAVs and computer vision to assess seabird nutrient subsidy effects on sharks and rays

Download (7.14 MB)
journal contribution
posted on 2024-01-19, 17:13 authored by Melissa SchieleMelissa Schiele, J. Marcus Rowcliffe, Ben ClarkBen Clark, Paul LepperPaul Lepper, Tom B. Letessier
Bird colonies on islands sustain elevated productivity and biomass on adjacent reefs, through nutrient subsidies. However, the implications of this localized enhancement on higher and often more mobile trophic levels (such as sharks and rays) are unclear, as spatial trends in mobile fauna are often poorly captured by traditional underwater visual surveys. Here, we explore whether the presence of seabird colonies is associated with enhanced abundances of sharks and rays on adjacent coral reefs. We used a novel long-range water-landing fixed-wing unoccupied aerial vehicle (UAV) to survey the distribution and density of sharks, rays and any additional megafauna, on and around tropical coral islands (n = 14) in the Chagos Archipelago Marine Protected Area. We developed a computer-vision algorithm to distinguish greenery (trees and shrubs), sand and sea glitter from visible ocean to yield accurate marine megafauna density estimation. We detected elevated seabird densities over rat-free islands, with the commonest species, sooty tern, reaching densities of 932 ± 199 per km−2 while none were observed over former coconut plantation islands. Elasmobranch density around rat-free islands with seabird colonies was 6.7 times higher than around islands without seabird colonies (1.3 ± 0.63 vs. 0.2 ± SE 0.1 per km2). Our results are evidence that shark and ray distribution is sensitive to natural and localized nutrient subsidies. Correcting for non-sampled regions of images increased estimated elasmobranch density by 14%, and our openly accessible computer vision algorithm makes this correction easy to implement to generate shark and ray and other wildlife densities from any aerial imagery. The water-landing fixed-wing long-range UAV technology used in this study may provide cost effective monitoring opportunities in remote ocean locations.


Marine Management Organisation

Fondation Bertarelli



  • Mechanical, Electrical and Manufacturing Engineering

Published in

Remote Sensing in Ecology and Conservation




  • VoR (Version of Record)

Rights holder

© The Authors

Publisher statement

This is an Open Access article published by Wiley under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial License, which permits use, distribution and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited and is not used for commercial purposes See more here: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/4.0/.

Acceptance date


Publication date


Copyright date





  • en


Dr Paul Lepper. Deposit date: 18 January 2024

Usage metrics

    Loughborough Publications


    Ref. manager