Drones on a mission to restore Mangrove-planting in Myanmar delta

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Now drones can be used in Myanmar for planting mangroves in Myanmar at much more speed compared to human beings.

What is need of such mission?

There is an “urgent need” to restore mangroves to stem saltwater invasion of farmland and shoreline erosion due to sea level rise, as well as to protect lives and property from storms and floods in coastal areas,

Mangroves protect coastlines in the face of storms and rising sea levels, absorb carbon from the atmosphere, and boost fish stocks, experts say.

Yet Myanmar has lost more than 1 million hectares (about 2.5 million acres) of mangroves since 1980, said Arne Fjortoft, founder and secretary-general of Worldview International Foundation (WIF), which has worked with two local universities to restore mangroves in the Southeast Asian nation since 2012.

Achievements

WIF has so far planted some 3 million mangrove trees, but the task is laborious and time-consuming.

Drones, on the other hand, could plant trees 10 times faster and cut costs by half, according to UK-based start-up BioCarbon Engineering (BCE), whose CEO is an ex-NASA engineer who worked on the search for life on Mars.

Once the process is fully automated, a single pilot operating six drones can plant up to 100,000 trees per day, BCE says.

Target

The plan covers 250 hectares and involves training and employing locals to collect and prepare seeds, as well as to maintain, monitor and protect the fragile ecosystems.

It still requires approval from Myanmar’s authorities, but Bremley Lyngdoh, a WIF board member who is applying for further grants, is hopeful work could start later this year.

“We don’t want another big storm to come and destroy a lot of lives and livelihoods like in 2008,” said Lyngdoh, referring to Cyclone Nargis which devastated the Ayeyarwady Delta region, killing nearly 140,000 people.

How it works

BCE’s technology, which works in two phases, aims to change that.First, drones flying 100 metres (328 ft) above the ground take highly detailed, 3D images of the land while sensors record information such as soil type, soil quality and moisture. The data is then used to create a planting pattern, pinpointing the best spots and species to plant in each location.

Then a drone uploaded with the mapping information flies 2 metres above the ground, shooting biodegradable seed pods designed to enhance germination success. A drone carrying 300 seed pods can cover 1 hectare in 18 minutes, according to BCE. Mr. Fedorenko said BCE had tested around 3,000 species of plants in different conditions, including in Britain and in Australia, and was confident of finding the right combination for Myanmar.

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