The cameras produce three-dimensional beach models that precisely measure shoreline change as part of the Victorian Coastal Monitoring Program. These models can also be used to predict how beaches will respond to storms and rising sea levels during climate change.
The program is the first successful citizen scientist program in the world to explore the causes of shoreline change and is a finalist in this year’s Australian Museum Eureka Prizes, Australia’s most comprehensive science awards.
“Beaches come and go, but we are trying to link what is happening on the beaches to climatology, to understand wave climate and how that is changing the coastline,” said Daniel Ierodiaconou, an associate professor in marine science at Deakin University’s Warrnambool campus.
The citizen scientists fly the drones along predetermined flight paths every six weeks, streamlining a complex task that, until recently, would have required multiple beach surveyors.
Australian scientists are already seeing evidence of climate change on the ocean, with satellites showing wave heights in the Southern Ocean have increased up to 5 per cent over the past 33 years. The researchers found the bigger waves were caused by an increase in extreme winds.
There were winter storm surges in Victoria this year affecting roads and other infrastructure in towns like Inverloch, Apollo Bay and Cape Paterson.
Scientists from the coastal program have also established Victoria’s first network of wave buoys in the Bass Strait, with the information available online, and mapped the sea bed. The way waves interact on the coast will depend on the shape of the sea floor, Mr Ierodiaconou said.
“Understanding the sediment that is out there helps us understand what is available for our beaches,” he said.
Some of the volunteers have been collecting data for more than two years, and it has informed decisions to “renourish” beaches and replace areas of sand, including at Apollo Bay.
Mr Beckman has become a citizen scientist with the coastal monitoring program and said it had been invaluable in educating his local community about the Portland coastline.
“All this information is crucial for a climate adaptation strategy,” he said. “If you have sea level rise or acidification, you need adaptations to protect the land and the built environment.”
The initiative is a joint project between Deakin University, the University of Melbourne and the Department of Environment, Water, Land and Planning.
Miki Perkins is a senior journalist and Environment Reporter at The Age.