The application of remote sensing to monitor loss of kelp habitat along the Sussex coastline

In Summer 2020 Alex Briggs undertook a masters thesis project at Imperial College, supervised by Chris Yesson.


Kelp forests, one of the most biodiverse habitats on earth and holding a high ecosystem service value, are declining globally due to climate change and anthropogenic fishing activities. Despite these threats, kelp distributions are often unmonitored, preventing critical conservation action. In the UK, along the Sussex coastline, once abundant kelp forests have declined to functional absence. This thesis established a standardised remote sensing-based monitoring method for this study area, using satellite imagery. Three image classification methods commonly used to study kelp were evaluated. The most accurate, a supervised classification, was then applied to produce a species distribution model, predicting the distribution of over 100km2 of kelp across Sussex. Kelp distribution was positively associated with fishing activity, suggesting that trawling may be linked with kelp decline in this area. However, low model accuracy suggests that these results should be treated with caution. This thesis highlights the limitations of widely available remote sensing data for monitoring sublittoral kelp in turbid waters. The collection of high-quality remote sensing data must be prioritised to monitor the distribution of declining kelp forests and inform conservation efforts.

Briggs A (2020) The application of remote sensing to monitor loss of kelp habitat along the Sussex coastline. A thesis submitted for the partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Science at Imperial College London. Supervised by Chris Yesson & James Rossindale (pdf)

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