Mangrove forest

Mangroves could be planted by drones in Myanmar restoration effort

Image credit: Dreamstime

Drones could be used to survey a large area in Myanmar and rapidly plant the seeds of Mangrove trees in an effort to restore some of the vital plants to the region, the Thomson Reuters foundation suggests.

Since 1980, Myanmar (formerly Burma) has lost approximately 2.4 million acres of mangroves. Mangroves – small trees which can grow in saltwater – protect coastlines in the face of extreme weather, as well as defending against rising sea levels and extreme weather, providing a habitat for fish and shrimp and absorbing carbon from the atmosphere.

Despite their importance in protecting residents and their livelihoods in Myanmar and other countries, a 2014 UN report warmed that mangroves are being destroyed at a rate three to five times higher than global deforestation.

Arne Fjortoft, founder and secretary-general of Worldview International Foundation (WIF) and former chairman of the Liberal Party of Norway, has been working with local universities to restore mangroves in Myanmar since 2012. He argues that there is an “urgent need” to restore mangroves, in order to slow shoreline erosion, prevent the invasion of farmland with saltwater, and protect nearby residents from storms and floods.

So far, WIF has painstakingly planted three million mangrove trees, although the task is difficult and very time consuming. The use of drones, WIF argues, could replace a significant amount of this tedious human labour.

According to BioCarbon Engineering, a UK-based start-up, drones could plant these trees 10 times faster than humans and cut costs by half. A single pilot operating six drones could plant up to 100,000 trees every day, the start-up claims.

In July 2017, BioCarbon Engineering and WIF were awarded $1 million by the BridgeBuilder Challenge to test the use of drones to plant a million mangrove trees across 620 acres in Myanmar. If Myanmar’s authorities approve the plan quickly, operations could begin by the end of the year.

The drones would target mangroves in the Ayeryarwady Delta, a low-lying expanse of densely populated land. It has suffered from deforestation and expanse of agriculture and aquaculture and in 2008 Cyclone Nargis killed 140,000 people and devastated the land. Only 16 per cent of its original mangrove cover remains today.

Drones would be used to take detailed images and collect data, such as moisture and soil type. This information can be used to determine where seeds should be planted.

Local people would be trained and employed to collect and prepare mangrove seeds, which would subsequently be delivered by the drones with a “shooting” mechanism. The drones could prove ideal for navigating the inaccessible, potentially dangerous terrain where mangroves used to thrive.

According to Bremley Lyngdoh, a board member of WIF, if the technology proves successfully in Myanmar, it could be applied to other large-scale restoration projects.

While drones are primarily used for surveillance in defence applications, humanitarian and civilian uses are on the rise, including in agriculture and to provide aid in the wake of disasters.

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