Macroalgae blooms (MABs) are a global natural hazard that are likely to increase in occurrence with climate change and increased agricultural runoff. MABs can cause major issues for indigenous species, fish farms, nuclear power stations, and tourism activities. This project focuses on the impacts of MABs on the operations of a British nuclear power station. However, the outputs and findings are also of relevance to other coastal operators with similar problems. Through the provision of an early-warning detection system for MABs, it should be possible to minimize the damaging effects and possibly avoid them altogether. Current methods based on satellite imagery cannot be used to detect low-density mobile vegetation at various water depths. This work is the first step towards providing a system that can warn a coastal operator 6–8 h prior to a marine ingress event. A fundamental component of such a warning system is the spectral reflectance properties of the problematic macroalgae species. This is necessary to optimize the detection capability for the problematic macroalgae in the marine environment. We measured the reflectance signatures of eight species of macroalgae that we sampled in the vicinity of the power station. Only wavelengths below 900 nm (700 nm for similarity percentage (SIMPER)) were analyzed, building on current methodologies. We then derived 1st derivative spectra of these eight sampled species. A multifaceted univariate and multivariate approach was used to visualize the spectral reflectance, and an analysis of similarities (ANOSIM) provided a species-level discrimination rate of 85% for all possible pairwise comparisons. A SIMPER analysis was used to detect wavebands that consistently contributed to the simultaneous discrimination of all eight sampled macroalgae species to both a group level (535–570 nm), and to a species level (570–590 nm). Sampling locations were confirmed using a fixed-wing unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), with the collected imagery being used to produce a single orthographic image via standard photogrammetric processes. The waveband found to contribute consistently to group-level discrimination has previously been found to be associated with photosynthetic pigmentation, whereas the species-level discriminatory waveband did not share this association. This suggests that the photosynthetic pigments were not spectrally diverse enough to successfully distinguish all eight species. We suggest that future work should investigate a Charge-Coupled Device (CCD)-based sensor using the wavebands highlighted above. This should facilitate the development of a regional-scale early-warning MAB detection system using UAVs, and help inform optimum sensor filter selection.
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