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The article delves into the decline of San Juan Island’s seagrass meadows and how high-resolution UAV imagery, alongside in situ sampling, quantifies the impact of disease and thermal stress on these ecosystems. Over a decade, San Juan’s seagrass shoot densities fell by 90%, with persistent wasting disease infections exceeding 40% since the 2016 heatwave. Synchronized UAV surveys and in situ sampling have enhanced data comprehensiveness, revealing extensive seagrass loss beyond monitoring transects, emphasizing the urgency for landscape-scale monitoring.

The study further highlights how warming temperatures exacerbate seagrass wasting disease, with an unprecedented 2021 heat dome causing intense physiological stress and rapid meadow diebacks. UAV imagery showcased substantial seagrass density losses, notably at Beach Haven, signifying ecological consequences like reduced biodiversity, carbon sequestration, and shoreline protection. The high infection rates preceding the heatwave amplified meadows’ vulnerability to acute thermal stress, contributing to widespread decline.

The flexibility of UAV methods enables rapid, cross-scale imagery collection, vital for immediate post-disturbance assessment. Advanced UAV deployment with various sensors promises deeper insights into plant health indicators and invasive species presence. Developing machine learning algorithms supports real-time analysis, aiding ecosystem monitoring amidst worsening climate-induced stressors. As wasting disease outbreaks and extreme heating intensify, combining in situ and UAV methods becomes crucial to comprehend seagrass meadow dynamics spatially and temporally.

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