Copernicus for Marine Environment: Application for marine mammals surveillance and monitoring environmental public management




Earth Observation (EO) data has been extensively used over the years to assist on the management of marine mammal populations either by establishing protected areas where stakeholders’ activity are reduced, or by minimizing the impact of anthropogenic threats. It is considered a basic and essential tool for the conservation of species, both by researchers and governments.
Some examples include weekly predictions of fin whale (Balaenop-tera physalus) distribution that represent a valuable conservation tool in marine protected areas to prevent collisions with ships.
Remotely sensed environmental parameters have the potential to identify biological hotspots for cetaceans and to therefore establish areas of marine conservation priority. Satellite measurements of ocean have proved an effective tool to map the environmental variables and processes occurring. It is the main tool for measuring ocean productivity (ocean colour) and its response to climate change/variability. Other variables also related with the presence and movements of cetaceans can be measured from space, e.g. sea surface temperature, sea surface height, etc.
This project aims to identify biological hotspots for cetaceans and help the management of marine protected areas, using Earth Observation and other collaborative network’s data.

EO MAMMALS is 100% funded by ESA under the science for society programme element of the EOEP-5 of ESA


This project’s technical solution was designed with the purpose of producing a downstream service (EO MAMMALS) to analyze associations between oceanic environment data remotely sensed and biological data, in order to provide a marine mammals dashboard in the context of the Atlantic Ocean (Macaronesia area).
EO MAMMALS will produce maps showing the areas with the best life conditions for the concentration of mammals, based on the knowledge of the different species in the Macaronesian ecosystem. Such maps will be based on physical and marine biogeochemical products obtained from Satellite Data and Copernicus Marine Environment Monitoring Service (CMEMS).
The range of variables considered for inclusion in the models will depend on the species considered for modelling and the availability and resolution of the covariates available in the survey area. These will likely include bathymetry, sea surface temperature, sea surface height as well as Chlorophyll A, amongst others. These variables will be modelled alongside biological data (animal numbers and locations) provided by stakeholders of the area, more specifically the whale watching companies, providing insights about favorable environmental conditions for each species.
EO MAMMALS service will provide continuous updated real-time maps of biologically relevant data layers and will rely on standards to guarantee the interoperability with other EO platforms (like DIAS) and products. This will allow the future scalability of the model by introducing new data, satellite images or prediction products that exist in other databases, platforms or services (for instance, using prediction models of mammal’s food concentration of ocean organisms like micronekton or plankton).

Scientific and Technical Goals

A project such as EO MAMMALS aims to fulfill some scientific and technical goals that will help to assess its success. Among these, some should be referred:

  • Use of remotely sensed environmental parameters to identify biological hotspots for cetaceans and foster the management of marine conservation;
  • Outlining marine conservation importance for the preservation of marine ecosystems for protected or significant species;
  • Creation of a Macaronesian habitat prediction model for marine mammals by integrating EO data and Copernicus services with data available from a well-established collaborative network;
  • Use of satellite data in marine mammal surveillance and monitoring;
  • Definition of a downstream service, putting together different types of data;
  • Leveraging existing public archives and cloud IT technologies, to bring fast data access using standard OGC interfaces to existing collections without the need to replicate data;
  • Setting up a service that can quickly be operationalized, as no significant investment in new infrastructure and software development is foreseen;
  • Easy integration of new collections and data providing, making them accessible through standardized mechanisms to ensure that the gathering and processing of data from different instruments and projects is straightforward;
  • Improving marine data network to be used by other users in different domains.

Expected Impacts

This project will have some very important impacts both on technical and societal terms. In technical terms, this project will allow:

  • Gaining biological insights from high quality data will provide new insights about the role of environmental variables in the distribution and abundance for key marine mammal species;
  • Reducing the cost of infrastructure and maximize dissemination efficiency without the need to replicate the data;
  • Being ready for future development by leveraging technologies for smart and user-friendly data retrieval and the corresponding standardised interfaces.

More so, and despite not being a direct technical benefit, EO MAMMALS will have a very strong user engagement since PLOCAN and MARCET network have a strong interest in the use of these new services to prevent the constant struggle with the issue of handling large series of temporal geospatial data.

In terms of societal benefits, EO MAMMALS will stand as a:

  • Public benefit for Canary Government by improving a tool already well established and well received amongst the general public, which will attract and involve different stakeholders and improve the citizen science quality experience;
  • Positive impact on MACARONESIA since this region is considered a high-density area (hot spot) for marine mammals and remotely sensed environmental parameters have the potential to identify biological hotspots for cetaceans and to, therefore, establish areas of marine conservation priority;
  • Positive impact on studies of cetaceans by providing useful data to understand the movements and preferences of selected pilot species which is primary and essential information for a conservation plan and management of their habitat in terms of marine spatial planning;
  • Positive impact on marine network of data since the service will combine data from various sources in order to contribute to the study and monitoring of mammals’ high density areas (hotspots)
  • Positive impact on protecting marine ecosystem by taking a multidisciplinary approach that involves different stake-holders ranging from the local government, to researcher and marine end-users;
  • Positive impact on tourism and economy fostering “Citizen Science” to increase the database for the model by including the contributions from customers of whale watching trips;
  • Positive impact on scientific community by providing a great model available to use on their research but also will be able to compare it to the models created with non-opportunistic data;
  • Positive impact on the future of EO services and users uptake for Copernicus and EO data with the development of a data service that makes products accessible on-site data through very efficient query protocols.



    PLOCAN is a Research Infrastructure (RI) labeled by the ICTS (Unique Scientific and Technological Infrastructure) Spanish National Roadmap, co-funded by the Economy and Competitiveness Ministry of the Spanish government and the Canary Islands government and by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) under the Operational Programme of the Canary Islands.

  • GMV

    GMV is a privately owned technological business group with an international presence. Founded in 1984, GMV offers its solutions, services and products in very diverse sectors: Aeronautics, Banking and Finances, Space, Defense, Health, Cybersecurity, Intelligent Transportation Systems, Automotive, Telecommunications, and Information Technology for Public Administration and large corporations.

  • University of St Andrews

    USTA is Scotland's first university and the third oldest in the English speaking world. Teaching began in the community of St Andrews in 1410, and the University was formally constituted by the issue of a papal bull in 1413. The University of St Andrews houses the Centre for Research into Ecological and Environmental Modelling (CREEM) an inter-disciplinary research centre, linking researchers from the Schools of Mathematics and Statistics, Biology and Geography and Geosciences.

Project Dissemination

Presentation of the project on the MED18 workshop (11-12 December 2018) at ESA-ESRIN in Frascatti, Italy by PLOCAN and GMV

Presentation of the project at the “Atlantic from space” Workshop organized by ESA in Southampton, UK by PLOCAN

Presentation of the project at the Phi-week, organized by ESA on 9-13 September 2019 at ESA-ESRIN in Frascatti, Italy


Project Manager
Ayoze Castro (ayoze.castro@plocan.eu): PLOCAN

Marine Environment Leader
Lindesay Scott-Haywarde (lass@st-andrews.ac.uk): USTA

Prototype and Earth Observation Leader
Filipe Brandao (fbrandao@gmv.com): GMV