Major Breakthrough in Combatting Eurasian Watermilfoil – Artificial Intelligence Supports Waterfront Residents

Major Breakthrough in Combatting Eurasian Watermilfoil – Artificial Intelligence Supports Waterfront Residents

A breakthrough has been reached in the fight against Eurasian watermilfoil. Bishop’s University, in partnership with RAPPEL (Regroupement des associations pour la protection de l’environnement des lacs et des bassins versants), has put forth the world’s first application of an aquatic drone to improve the efficiency of critical efforts to control against invasive aquatic plants.

A project led by the Undergraduate Bishop’s Earth Research Group (UBERG), specifically by Steven Poulin, a master’s student in Computer Sciences at Bishop’s, the aquatic drone has criss-crossed lakes in the Estrie and Outaouais regions in the past year. The goal: to build a bank of images for its deep-learning system. As such, over 60,000 images of aquatic plants have been integrated within the drone which can now autonomously recognize twelve aquatic plant species with over 95% efficiency, surpassing human performance in this area.

RAPPEL, a group of strategy experts in the control of Eurasian milfoil, proceeded, in recent weeks, to the concrete application of the drone for its operations. In collaboration with the Association pour la protection de l’environnement du lac O’Malley (APELO), RAPPEL used the aquatic drone for its work in Austin at O’Malley Lake. The drone first surveyed the waters, then RAPPEL used the type of data collected, such as mapping and identification of Eurasian watermilfoil unit plans. The result: operations for the manual removal based on precision geofencing, a world’s first.

L’Association de protection de l’environnement du lac O’Malley wished to congratulate the Bishop’s University team and the team from RAPPEL for this important step in combatting Eurasian milfoil. Our association is proud to have participated to this research project and to continue being at the forefront in controlling this invasive exotic plant.Michèle Lafond, APELO President

This advance is significant because it will reduce the cost of controlling invasive exotic aquatic plants. Indeed, the mapping produced using the drone provides an accuracy of 10 to 15 cm, reducing the positioning time of the divers who carry out the uprooting under water. The applications of such technology to improve knowledge of an aquatic environment and to carry out floristic inventories are also very encouraging.

Building on this promising momentum, the research team now hopes to obtain the necessary funds to produce other drones of the same type and benefit a greater proportion of water protection stakeholders.


Undergraduate Bishop’s Earth Research Group (UBERG) is an organization of Bishop’s University that aims to provide undergraduate students with in-depth and meaningful research experiences in applied geospatial topics. Its mission is to conduct environmental research projects that benefit the surrounding community while providing undergraduate students with educational opportunities to develop applied research skills. The UBER-Gaiter aquatic drone project has mobilized many people from the student community in recent years. Designed in 2018 and assembled in 2019, the drone’s acquisition module deployed in 2020 before being put on hold during the COVID-19 pandemic. It was in the winter of 2022 that Steven Poulin, co-supervised by researchers and lecturers Bruno Courtemanche and Russel Butler, reinitiated the aquatic drone project and allowed it to be used for the first time in an operational context.


RAPPEL (Regroupement des associations pour la protection de l’environnement des lacs et des bassins versants) was created in 1997 by lake associations who wanted to come together to better protect their respective bodies of water. Now in the legal form of a non-profit solidarity cooperative democratically managed by its members, the RAPPEL is carried by 350 members, including more than 160 associations and about forty municipalities, distributed in 11 administrative regions of Quebec. At the heart of the cooperative is a multidisciplinary professional team made up of specialists in biology, engineering, geomorphology, geography, and ecology technicians. The expertise of the staff aims to support the daily work of the volunteers of the associations and other actors in the protection of water. Recognized for its expertise in the fight against Eurasian watermilfoil, RAPPEL has been involved for several years in the aquatic drone project, whether through data sharing, contact with lake associations, sharing research equipment or human resources.

Rappel logo


L’Association pour la protection de l’environnement du lac O’Malley (APELO) has been in operation since 1979 to preserve the health of the lake. Its purpose is to bring together all residents and all owners with access to the lake around the same cause: the protection of the lake and its environment. Lake O’Malley is the second lake in Quebec that has taken steps toward experimenting with burlap tarping as a method of combating the invasion of Eurasian watermilfoil in the body of water. Thus, the lake has witnessed many tests, carried out by RAPPEL, to develop an optimal control strategy. The operations, which proven to be very effective, made it possible to significantly reduce the Eurasian watermilfoil in the lake. The association, which has accepted that the professional team use the drone at the research and development stage, is the first to benefit from the operationalization of the instrument.

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Angélie Bellerose-Langlois | Coordonnatrice au marketing et aux communications | RAPPEL
819-636-0092, ext. 229

Sonia Patenaude | Communications Manager | Bishop’s University