Lakes From Space: Using Technologies to Enhance Aquatic Plant Management Precision and Accuracy

Aquatic plant management (APM) is a critical stewardship practice for sustaining healthy freshwater systems. This field of natural resource management is a highly technical and heavily scrutinized discipline. Biologists and natural resource managers in Florida are tasked with planning and evaluating tens of thousands of acres of APM treatments on public lake systems every year.

Surveys for water bodies are traditionally conducted by managers visiting a system and using rakes (also referred to as a “frotus”) to manually sample native and non-native aquatic plants and sonar to map where these plant communities are on a lake. This practice of live observation connects the biologist to the ecosystem and is an institutional APM practice informing where, when, how much, and what type of management should be applied. This field intelligence gathered is indispensable but also very labor-intensive. Moreover, many biologists are also trying to manage several lakes within regions covering hundreds of square miles, making it very difficult to survey all the lakes regularly. This is where satellite imagery and intelligence can come into play.

Satellite Intelligence for Aquatic Plant Management

Remote sensing (RS) and Earth observation (EO) are long-standing scientific endeavors using high-flying aircraft and satellites orbiting space to capture images of Earth’s landscapes and ecosystems. As the saying goes, “A picture is worth a thousand words,” and the science of EO has been telling us that Earth is changing and, as a global community, we must learn how to adapt to these changes. Technological advancements in satellites are now producing petabytes of data every day, delivering information with high spatial and temporal resolution to the public domain that is freely available and easy to use. This satellite intelligence allows us to navigate anywhere around the world and collect data on entire landscapes and lake systems.

We are discovering how satellite imagery can complement and refine annual lake surveys. In particular, we are learning how to better classify and map water hyacinth and hydrilla, two of the most problematic invasive species in Florida’s aquatic systems. Many satellite images are updated weekly or monthly, allowing biologists and managers to observe the growth or behavior of these plants in near real-time. These frequent intelligence updates can greatly accelerate the planning and evaluation process of APM activities and create better flexibility to changing conditions.

New Workshop on Using Satellite Imagery

Recently, we hosted a virtual workshop series to teach basic skills on how to search, acquire and analyze satellite data provided by the National Aeronautical and Space Agency (NASA) and European Space Agency (ESA). This series was made up of four one-hour sessions. In this workshop series, managers learned how to navigate the EO browser to search for satellite images in the public domain and how to use the various tools for making useful calculations.

The mission of this workshop was to increase proficiencies in remote sensing and geographic information system (GIS) applications for better planning and evaluation of aquatic plant management activities. Utilizing these tools and practices can maintain situational awareness of aquatic systems when time and resources are limited. These investments in knowledge capital can lead to improving precision and accuracy of aquatic plant management activities. Moreover, this will reduce environmental impact, increase cost-effectiveness, and build social acceptance.

Interested in learning more about this technology and how it can be applied to your work? Contact Dr. James Leary at

This blog post was written by Dr. James Leary, UF/IFAS CAIP assistant professor. This post features research and information from his graduate research project and thesis. Questions or comments can be sent to the UF/IFAS CAIP communications manager at Follow UF/IFAS CAIP on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter. Subscribe for more blogs like this one.

UF/IFAS Center for Aquatic and Invasive Plants. Turning Science Into Solutions.

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Posted: August 3, 2022

Category: Conservation, Invasive Species, Natural Resources, Recreation, UF/IFAS, UF/IFAS, UF/IFAS Extension, UF/IFAS Extension, UF/IFAS Research, Water

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