Drones keep eyes on the Great Ocean Road as maintenance teams struggle with threat of landslides

Drones have been deployed by Victoria’s roads department to monitor erosion and prevent landslides along one of Victoria’s biggest tourist attractions.

Parts of the Great Ocean Road have been forced to close for weeks at a time after 120 landslides hit the surf coast in 2016.

Now, VicRoads is using drone technology to collect 3D imagery and survey vast lengths of the road, allowing the authority look at parts of the landscape that have never been accessible before.

VicRoads’ south-west Victoria regional director Mark Koliba said the drone data provides more detail than possible with manned aircraft.

“The data is definitely helping us understand how water flows through the area and how to drain water to the right spots and away from some of these high-risk potential landslide spots,” he said.

“It’s going to allow us to monitor and compare changes in the landscape over the years to come and that’s a good indication of where the risks are along the road.”

Research from Victoria’s Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP) found that in 2012 the beach was eroding at a rate of nine centimetres per year.

By 2016 the rate had increased to one metre, triggered by fires and floods.

Wye River and Separation Creek are some of the biggest areas of concern and tourism has suffered since the towns were ravaged by bushfires on Christmas Day two years ago.

It is hoped the database of footage will allow repairs to be made in high-risk areas before landslides happen.

VicRoads has also started to deploy its own weather stations along the road to get real-time data about rainfall.

“Basically we are using these weather stations to detect rainfall and soil moisture conditions along the road,” Mr Koliba said.

“Historically, VicRoads has had to rely on the Bureau of Meteorology weather stations which are limited in the area, and rainfall can vary dramatically between communities.”

The Victorian Government committed $53 million to improve the surface of the Great Ocean Road in 2016 to reduce the risk of closures and landslips.

That money has been used to build concrete retaining walls, install eight-metre-long soil nails into bedrock, as well as the use of wire mesh and re-vegetation.

Roads Minister Luke Donellan said the drones will be able to provide real-time information of what is happening along the road.

“We will now start using the technology on a weekly basis to know what’s happening with the soil up there and to looking at heat levels, live,” he said.

“We just need to be on top of this because this road is so important for tourism.”

The drones were first used in November and Mr Donnellan said the Great Ocean Road will be the state’s first trial, with the technology soon to be used on other Victorian roads with similar issues.


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