Mapping marine litter on coastal dunes with unmanned aerial systems: A showcase on the Atlantic Coast

Umberto Andriolo, Gil Gonçalves, Filipa Bessa, Paula Sobral

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

19 Citations (Scopus)


Marine litter pollution on coastal dunes has received limited scientific attention when compared with sandy shores. This paper proposes a new framework based on the combined use of Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) and a mobile application to map and quantify marine macro-litter (>2.5 cm) accumulation on coastal dunes. The first application on a dune area of 200 m × 80 m at the north-east Atlantic Portuguese coast is shown. Nine different marine litter categories were found, with styrofoam fragments (23% of the total amount) and plastic bottles (20%) being the most abundant items. Plastic was the most common material (76%). The highest number of items (272) was found on the backdune, mostly related with fishing activities (octopus pots and Styrofoam fragments). In contrast, the highest density (0.031 items/m2) was found on the foredune, with the most abundant items associated with human recreational activities (for example, plastic bottles, bags, papers and napkins). Three major marine litter hotspots (~0.1 items/m2) were identified in correspondence of dune blowouts. The recognition of the primary marine litter pathways highlighted the main role that wind and overwash events play on dune contamination, and suggests that the dune ridge restoration can act as a mitigation measure for preventing marine litter accumulation on the backdune. This study shows how UAS offer the possibility of a detailed non-intrusive survey, and gives a new impulse to coastal dune litter monitoring, where the long residence time of marine debris may threaten the bio-ecological equilibrium of these ecosystems.

Original languageEnglish
Article number139632
JournalScience of the Total Environment
Publication statusPublished - 20 Sep 2020


  • Beach-dune
  • Drones
  • Marine debris
  • Mobile application
  • Plastic pollution


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