Drones Are Helping Identify River Pollution Hotspot

Our love of plastic has led us to have ocean and river pollution, which has reached epidemic levels!

Rivers are extremely important because what flows along the rivers eventually ends up in the oceans, now both ocean and river pollution worsen!

Scientists are afraid that instead of the plastic waste making its way to landfills, it is just being dumped into the environment.

Our rivers, lakes, and oceans are becoming filled with plastic that is being dumped into the water and thereby killing our seals, whales, fish, sea birds, and other various sea animals. It is also littering our beaches and making its way into the food chain. In fact, this issue has reached such levels that it is estimated that by 2050 there will be more plastic in the sea than fish.

This isn’t just a problem that’s affecting our wildlife, it’s affecting humans, as well, since plastic is increasingly being found in fish. It is inevitable, then, that it will reach the food chain.

The Mekong River is known to suffer the most from plastic bottles and plastic bags which are being dumped in or nearby their waterway.

As many of Asia’s rivers are polluted with plastics in their rivers, they pose a problem for Australia, where scientists are looking to drones for help.

The Mekong River contributes much of the plastic in the oceans. It is one of 10 rivers in the world that collectively contributes up to 95% of plastic in the ocean. The Mekong River runs for more than 4,000 kilometres (2,485 miles) through six countries in Asia, starting in China and flowing through Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam.

As many of Asia’s rivers are polluted with plastics, they pose a problem for Australia, where much of the plastic that originates from the Mekong River drifts onto Australian shores and causes danger to the wildlife in the region. The scientists are turning to technology–specifically drone technology–to help address the issue and reduce the amount of plastic that eventually ends up in the ocean.

This is a realistic solution due to the advancement in drone technology in recent years. Drones are now being used to take photos of the plastic found in the river, providing scientists with data on plastic hotspots.

Drones are now able to take thousands of images of the rivers, lakes, and oceans, and identify the plastic polluting them, and geo-tagging and adding to a database that keeps track of all the rubbish found in our waterways.

The data is then collected to create a hotspot map of the pollution, that is fed to an algorithm, which makes it possible for scientists to more accurately understand where the plastic is, and analyze why the plastic builds up in certain areas. This, in turn, is all done to be proactive by cleaning up the plastics before they even enter the ocean.

Microplastic pollution (items of plastic less than 5mm in length) has led to microplastic contamination in Scottish coastal waters. In fact, it was present in 31 of the 49 samples taken from 27 different locations around the Scottish coast.

Although drones are able to detect much of the plastic that floats on the surface of rivers and lakes, they are unable to detect microplastics since they can’t be seen from above. Fortunately, the Albatross, a Japanese-developed device that is used to trap microplastics, makes it possible for the scientists to study how much of this microplastic is in the rivers and oceans.


Knowledge is key!

Since rivers from so many countries contribute to this pollution, it is vital to continually gather as much information as possible from various cities and countries around the world. In addition, improvement in the management of waste systems will also make a significant difference.

It is estimated that what used to take 5 to 10 years to collect enough data to make a difference in the war on river pollution, drones will enable scientists to collect in about 1 year.

An amazing differential!

Amy Bainbridge, “Pieces of plastic rubbish flow through the Mekong River” (ABC News)

”Our love of plastic is killing our wildlife,” (June 20, 2018)

Leave a Comment

Scroll to Top