20/20 Vision: A revolution in coastline visualisation and monitoring is here!

AUS - 20/20 Vision – A revolution in coastline visualisation and monitoring is here!

Coastal imaging kicked off in Australia just over 2 decades ago, and at the time was the most sophisticated technique available to remotely measure coastlines. Fixed-position cameras were mounted on high rise buildings to take still photographs of the beach for quantification of shoreline change. This technique was often synonymous with the Argus system, which was the coastal imaging platform adopted almost universally by researchers around the world.

2020 sees us amidst another revolution in remote coastline monitoring and visualisation. Some of the most significant advances in over two decades are now coming to the fore, and “coastal imaging” is beginning to look like a very different beast – one that is finally lifting its head out of the sand (pun intended ;-) Gone are the times of the (retrospectively) clunky research-focused systems of old. Gone are the times of delayed static images of our coast, and data locked into inaccessible files on a distant server. In 2020 we are now bringing more to the table.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s still about high quality data for our beaches, but these days as coastline managers we want, need and can have so much more. Our tools are more dynamic and systems more sophisticated; It’s all about satellites, smart phones, social media, crowd-sourced and machine learning. Dynamic visualisation of our beaches in real time and accessible data sets with which we can easily interact via dashboards and toolboxes - and all functioning via the cloud.

Over the past couple of years my colleagues and I have been plugging away on a whole bunch of interesting and clever projects, all part of WRL’s advanced coastal monitoring bundle. When I reflect and consider the collective progress that the group has made, it’s easy to appreciate that coastal imaging no longer looks anything like it did 20 years ago, or even 10 or 5 years ago. We’ve come a long way on this journey and worked with some great project partners along the way.


CoastSnap community beach monitoring was coined by Mitch Harley and Mike Kinsela with humble beginnings in a partnership between WRL, OEH and Northern Beaches Council. The simple system provides a platform for community members to snap images of a beach from a fixed position using their smartphones and share the images via social media. Mitch has gone on to develop a package of tools to analyse the crowd-sourced imagery, such that we can now quantify erosion and accretion of monitored beaches using nothing more than photos posted by members of our community on social media. In just a few years the CoastSnap network has now grown to over 25 photo monitoring points in Australia and 14 other countries around the world, with a new CoastSnap app currently in the pipeline.

The CoastSat toolbox was developed by Kilian Vos in 2019 and provides a streamlined package for mapping long-term sandy-beach shoreline positions using freely available satellite imagery. Satellite remote sensing provides a low-cost long-term shoreline data set where no in-situ field measurements are available. The CoastSat system enables users to extract shorelines from Landsat 5, Landsat 7, Landsat 8 and Sentinel-2 satellite imagery, providing analysis of long-term shoreline positional change and insights into beachface slope. All from your desk and completely for free!

Over the past 2 years Chris Drummond has been busy working on BeachStat, a system to automatically track beach users and shoreline positions using low-cost remote camera systems, and machine learning algorithms. This economical system uses fully stand-alone customised trail cameras deployed at remote locations to record beach activity, with imagery sent and stored via the cloud. We are also partnering with Spectur camera systems for applications where real-time viewing of the beach is required. The output from both systems is the same – BeachStat provides long term continuous data that allows us to quantify patterns of beach use and understand the value of beaches to our communities; data that is becoming increasingly important as we attempt to evaluate the site-specific costs and benefits of future management strategies for our beaches.

Read more with several videos