Pollution due to plastic and microplastic debris is a worldwide phenomenon, which also impacts the Mediterranean Sea.
The objective of the BIOBLU project - Robotic BIOremediation for coastal debris in BLUE Flag beach and in a Maritime Protected Area, which has received EUR 1.65 million in funding through the INTERREG V-A - Italia Malta programme is to provide innovative contributions to mitigate the effects of such pollution, through an automated detection of plastic debris using UAVs, as well as automatic collection using robotic means.
Apart from litter detection and collection, the remote surveillance system will also provide useful information for biological studies on different benthic and nektonic species, to understand the amount of pollution in the different levels of the food chain, and also to trace the origin of such pollution.
Besides providing two site management partners (Ir-Ramla l-Ħamra Bay in Gozo and Capo Milazzo in Sicily) with two automated prototypes for beach cleaning and an analysis of the state of the local environment, BIOBLU aims to promote a new management approach, relying on new technologies and new available knowledge.
The BIOBLU project is led by the University of Messina, with the University of Catania, the University of Malta, the Ministry for Gozo and the Comune di Milazzo as partners.
The role of the University of Malta will be to develop a dataset of drone imagery, which will be used to train a deep learning neural network to identify and localise plastic debris in beaches. This information will be transmitted to a robot which will collect the debris from the beach.
The UM academics working on this projects are Dr Ing. Gianluca Valentino and Dr Reuben Farrugia from the Department of Communications & Computer Engineering at the Faculty of ICT, as well as Dr Sebastiano D’Amico from the Department of Geosciences, at the Faculty of Science.