THE first stage of a ground-breaking project using artificial intelligence technology to protect the water ecosystem in Poole Harbour is now live.

Sensors have been installed on existing navigation buoys and markers across the harbour, including the oyster beds.

Councillor Mark Anderson, Portfolio Holder for Environment at BCP Council, said: "Poole Harbour is a critical local resource and has been enjoyed by local people for years for commerce, leisure, pleasure, fishing and even for its high quality oyster beds.

"Like all harbours and estuaries, we face growing challenges to maintaining water quality and are excited to be using artificial intelligence to improve our environmental monitoring."

It is hoped the pilot scheme will work by utilising data from a network of sensors, which are continually monitored in real time by artificial intelligence analysis.

Backed by BCP Council, the know how comes from the firm UnifAI Technology Ltd, which is providing the equipment.

Council officials say the sensors, which require little maintenance, measure several key variables in the water and transmit the data automatically to the cloud.

This information can be used to quickly detect potential pollutants such as bacterial build up, sewage, fertiliser run-off and industrial discharges which can be harmful for aquatic ecosystems.

The council also says the project represents the first live deployment of a network of low-cost remote and continuous sensors which use AI to monitor, in real time, the health of a protected water ecosystem such as Poole Harbour, anywhere in the world

Cllr Anderson said: "Data will be used to significantly improve our understanding of what is going on in the water, so we can better manage this precious ecosystem in the future."

Poole Harbour is one of the world's largest natural harbours and has been recognised internationally as an important area for nature conservation, designated as a Special Protection Area.

Speaking after the project was announced in May, UnifAI Technology chief commercial officer, and former chairman of the All Parliamentary Group for the Environment, Dan Byles, said: "We are delighted to be working with BCP Council and the Poole Harbour Commissioners on this important project."