Chesapeake Bay Oyster Monitoring Grand Challenge

Through environmental partnership, Northrop Grumman has developed an innovative method of remotely monitoring bay oyster reefs.

Sun setting over the Chesapeake Bay
Employees gather around oysters

Save the Bay

Oyster restoration is key to the health of the Chesapeake Bay, as oysters are vital in helping clean water and providing the basis for restoring the bay's natural ecosystem.

Unfortunately, the bay oyster population has declined for over a century. In response, The Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) supports a regional goal to plant 10 billion new oysters by 2025.

See the Oyster Challenge Infographic

One of the primary conservation challenges is remotely monitoring oyster reefs across the Chesapeake Bay. Only a small fraction of reefs are monitored, and the CBF's current methods of gathering data are both labor intensive and limited by weather and water conditions.

In partnership with the CBF, Northrop Grumman launched the Chesapeake Bay Oyster Monitoring Grand Challenge. Through the Challenge, our employees developed technology solutions for remote oyster reef monitoring that leveraged the best of our remote sensing capabilities and applied them to low-cost commercial hardware in an effort to improve conservation programs.

Putting Technology to Work to Save the Chesapeake Bay

Defining Possible Beneath the Bay
Individuals place device in water

Northrop Grumman Oyster Monitoring Capabilities

The CBF’s requirements for monitoring the oyster reefs included:

  • Mapping and imaging oyster sanctuary reefs
  • Collecting water chemistry data
  • Obtaining health and development status data
  • Providing actionable insights to the CBF on how to best deploy resources

During Phase 1 in 2019, more than 40 employees submitted 10 unique proposals. Five teams were selected as finalists to further develop and demonstrate their sensor technologies. Phase 2 in 2020 combined those five teams into two with a focus on further developing and integrating the sensors onto vehicle platforms and demonstrating remote operation capability. The teams worked in parallel to field their concepts during Phase 2 and ultimately delivered an operational capability to the CBF in 2022.

Through the use of the following technologies and off-the-shelf hardware, the teams aimed to develop capable solutions that met the parameters of the CBF’s annual operating budget:

  • Acoustic monitoring
  • Surface and underwater remotely-operated vehicles
  • Image processing
  • Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning
Remotely operated underwater vehicle

The Result

Northrop Grumman developed an integrated, multi-modal remote sensing system that utilizes sonar, acoustics, and visual mediums to identity and evaluate oyster reef habitats:

The ROV (remotely operated vehicle)

This BlueRobotics BlueROV2 is equipped with a state-of-the-art 3-D light field camera providing clear images and videos of oyster reef and habitats.

Acoustic Hydrophones (“bottles”)

This acoustic hydrophone allows us to listen to the oyster reef soundscape and evaluate the quality of the oyster habitat.

Sonar Towfish

This towed sonar array helps us map the bottom by emitting sound waves that bounce off the seafloor back to a transmitter on the array. That data is then analyzed via machine learning to identify hard bottom suitable for oyster reef restoration.

Northrop Grumman is in the process of handing over the system to the CBF so they can continue to track oyster populations and the health of oyster reefs in the bay.

(Photo credit: Daniel Swartz & Vithaya Phongsavan)

two male Northrop Grumman working on laptop on boat

Innovation Career Opportunities

Are you interested in technology and innovation? We are too. Check out Northrop Grumman career opportunities and consider joining our team.

Learn More

In the News

Students of Sustainability

In Chesapeake oysters' future: underwater drones, shellfish barges?

Northrop Grumman, CBF Test Oyster Monitoring New Tech

Illuminating the Bay with a SPARK

Clearing the Waters: Novel Combination of Imaging Tech and Algorithms

Scientists Search for Best Way to Restore Oysters in Chesapeake Bay

Northrop Grumman dives into Chesapeake Bay oyster reef monitoring

Northrop Grumman oyster monitoring at Chesapeake Bay Foundation

Chesapeake Bay Foundation, Northrop Grumman Teaming Up To Help Oyster Population Flourish

New Technology Improves Oyster Monitoring

This page was updated on 4/6/2022 to reflect current progress of the initiative.