Karen Boswarva

        Picture of Karen Boswarva

PhD student

I am a marine ecosystem-management and conservation scientist specialising in marine robotics and their use in surveying and monitoring the seabed in Marine Protected Areas.

My PhD involves testing the effectiveness of using a Gavia Autonomous Underwater Vehicle (AUV) as a marine mapping and monitoring tool.

I am particularly interested in using the AUV to quantitatively analyse species and habitats of conservation priority, and produce predictive habitat maps.

Contact details:
  • karen.boswarva@sams.ac.uk
  • +44 (0)1631 559 000

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  • bossywarva

Testing the effectiveness of Autonomous Underwater Vehicles (AUVs) for monitoring and mapping the seabed in Marine Protected Areas

The use of autonomous robots for marine industry and scientific research is becoming increasingly popular.  Autonomous Underwater Vehicles (AUVs) and other remote sensing technologies have been identified as an important tool for how Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) are surveyed and monitored in the future (Wynn et al., 2012). The west coast of Scotland provides a diverse environment to test and evaluate AUVs for MPA monitoring and to develop viable strategies for their use. AUV data can provide information for developing habitat suitability models, and enable quantitative and qualitative analysis of the spatio-temporal variability in benthic communities (Henry et al., 2013), whilst measuring the effect of anthropogenic impacts (primarily fishing).

My project will focus on two locations; Firth of Lorn and Chilean Patagonia.

Firth of Lorn: A special Area of Conservation designated for its rocky reef habitat and MPA for common skate (Dipturus batis). The seabed has undergone rigorous mapping through the INIS Hydro project, resulting in the production of detailed maps of the seabed. This chapter will focus on the development of AUV technology for future monitoring and development of surveys in established MPAs. Provide evidence for effective management in future MPA design and planning, including site selection for sampling and the creation of effective MPA boundary areas. Highlighting the impacts of continued shared use of the marine environment including fish farming, marine noise, increased creel activity and ghost fishing. And finally, providing examples of site suitability for designating no take zones.

Chilean Patagonia: The most structural marine environment in the world. Largely -unmapped due to the location and difficulty of access. Large-scale salmonid aquaculture development and export. This chapter will focus on using the AUV for the predevelopment stages of MPA planning, building up the AUV technology and development for designing suitable surveys based on the variety of conditions and how they can be adapted for use in other fjordic systems. Identifying impacts associated with the aquaculture industry by surveying impacted vs un-impacted sites.

This project is based in the Scottish Marine Robotics Facility at SAMS. It will test the suitability of AUVs to monitor MPAs, identifying current survey methods, and comparing and adapting methodologies. Novel algorithmic approaches will be adapted to combine new, very high resolution AUV acoustic bathymetric data with existing models to generate predictive habitat maps at unprecedented spatial resolutions for a range of MPA habitats. Thus enabling the development of a generic approach which is readily reproducible and defensible, and can be applied in other dynamic inshore coastal environments.

This PhD forms part of a wider NEXUSS (Next Generation Unmanned System Science) CDT cohort, which provides state-of-the-art, highly experiential training in the application and development of cutting-edge Smart and Autonomous Observing Systems for the environmental sciences, alongside comprehensive personal and professional development.



Dr John Howe, SAMS

Dr Bhavani Narayanaswamy, SAMS

Professor Keith Brown, Heriot Watt University



NERC-funded NEXUSS (Next Generation Unmanned System Science) program



University of the Highlands and Islands

Peer-reviewed publications

Boswarva K, Butters A, Fox CJ, Howe JA, Narayanaswamy B (2018) Improving marine habitat mapping using high-resolution acoustic data; a predictive habitat map for the Firth of Lorn, Scotland. Continental Shelf Research 168: 39-47 DOI: 10.1016/j.csr.2018.09.005


Conference talks

GEOHAB Conference, Nova Scotia 1st – 3rd May 2017, Using Autonomous Underwater Vehicles (AUVs) to map the fjordic habitats in the Chilean Patagonia: A tool for the development of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs)


Poster presentations

UHI Student Conference, November 2016, Testing the effectiveness of Autonomous Underwater Vehicles for surveying and monitoring benthic habitats in Marine Protected Areas

Professional activities

Diving Officer of Highlands and Islands Sub Aqua Club (HISAC)


Teaching experience

BSAC Diving Instructor


Fieldwork experience

Offshore environmental surveys for North Sea Oil and Gas companies

Marine Mammal Observer

AUV technician- Chilean Patagonia and Firth of Lorn 


Public engagement / outreach experience

Local marine wildlife guide on boat tours around the Firth of Lorn


Media experience

Working with Dutch film crew on science programme looking at robotics capabilities


Professional memberships


British Ecological Society

Marine Biological Association of the UK

Challenger Society

Hydro International


Professional training courses

NERC Scientific Diving: Techniques and Technologies

NERC Scientific Diving: Marine ID Techniques

JNCC Marine Mammal Observer for Seismic Operations

RYA Powerboat Level 2


Employment history

Apr-Sep 2016 Marine Wildlife Guide. Sealife Adventures

Jan-May 2015 Volunteer Aquarium Assistant. Oban Sealife Centre

May-Aug 2014 Environmental Report Writer. Gardline

Sep 2012-Sep 2013 Field Marine Environmental Scientist. Gardline



2015 MSc Ecosystem-based Management of Marine Systems. University of St Andrews

2014 BSc (Hons) Environmental Conservation. University of Leeds