CoastSnap community beach monitoring was created by WRL's Dr Mitchell Harley and Mike Kinsela from the NSW Office of Environment and Heritage, originally partnering with Northern Beaches Council installing the first CoastSnap community beach monitoring stations around the Northern Beaches of Sydney in 2017.

The simple system provides a platform for community members to snap images of a beach from a fixed position using their smartphones and share the images via social media.

From humble beginnings, WRL now has a package of tools to analyse the crowd-sourced imagery, which can quantify erosion and accretion of monitored beaches using nothing more than photos posted by members of our community on social media. In just a few years the CoastSnap network has grown exponentially, with CoastSnap stations now located world-wide.

  • CoastSnap is a low-cost community beach monitoring technology that turns the smartphones found in most people’s pockets into powerful coastal monitoring devices. At any given time of any given day, somebody somewhere is taking a photo with their smartphone of a beach or particular stretch of coastline and uploading it to the internet. The aim of CoastSnap is to harness this incredible amount of information into something that can be useful for coastal communities for understanding how coastlines are changing through time – whether it be due to rising sea levels, extreme storms, or other factors. Ultimately, this information is used to improve the way coastlines are managed into the future.

  • At the heart of CoastSnap is a simple stainless steel smartphone cradle that is installed overlooking a beach in a location that is easily accessible by the community.

    Using the instructional sign, a beach visitor is encouraged to place their smartphone into the cradle, take a photo of the beach and share it to a centralised database via social media (using a hashtag unique to each site) or email. Since the smartphone cradle controls the position and viewing angle of the photo, over time this collection of community images records as a time-lapse video the coastline as it evolves due to the changing conditions.

    In addition to these time-lapse videos, CoastSnap technology is also capable of tracking the precise changes in the position of the coastline over time. It does this by having a survey team first measure information about the site: the exact position and elevation of the smartphone cradle and several “ground control points” (stationary objects such as buildings, rocks and distant hills that are located within the beach photo). Using sophisticated image processing techniques, the technology is then able to precisely measure the position of the coastline relative to these ground points at any given time.

  • By involving the community in the data collection process, CoastSnap provides the unique opportunity to educate anyone interested in learning about our dynamic coastlines as well as obtain high-quality coastal information that is traditionally collected by experienced surveyors. Some additional programs currently being developed using CoastSnap include:

    • Tracking coastline changes across different sites, regions and even borders and ocean basins.
    • Education packages for primary, secondary and tertiary students using their own smartphones.
    • Monitoring the coastline before and after storm events through a system of notifications provided to the CoastSnap community.
  • CoastSnap was first implemented in mid-2017 at two sites on the northern beaches of Sydney, Australia. Since then, the network of CoastSnap stations has grown rapidly to include sites across Australia as well as in many other countries. This growing network unites a global community of passionate volunteers and researchers from different cultural backgrounds, with new tools and applications constantly being developed through the CoastSnap users group.

For further information contact:

Mitchell Harley | Scientia Fellow & Senior Lecturer |