MYANMAR — Mangrove forests are extremely valuable to their respective ecological systems in a wide variety of ways. Their ability to provide habitat for dozens of different marine species, their mitigation of carbon emissions, and nature as a protective shield from coastal erosion processes make them highly advantageous to local communities.
Unfortunately, expansive agricultural practices and devastating cyclones have caused an alarming shrinkage in Myanmar’s mangrove forests, which are disappearing three times faster than rainforests. However, hope may be on the horizon, thanks to Myanmar’s tree-planting drones.
Prior to the introduction of drone technology, Myanmar’s farmers spent five years planting 2.7 million mangrove trees, led by the Worldview International Foundation. While this figure may seem high, the use and facilitation of aerial machinery can increase that number even more.
To be specific, drones are capable of planting approximately 100,000 trees in a single day, meaning that what formerly required five years of reforestation efforts will now take less than a single year (assuming only one drone is used).
One might ask, however, what the importance of mangrove forests are, and why there is a need for Myanmar’s tree-planting drones.
According to the World Wildlife Fund, mangrove forests are extremely important to both the marine environment and the people that live near them. Being found near shallow water and their ability to host a myriad of fish, shrimp, crab and mollusks, mangrove forests are an excellent source of food and ecotourism from which local communities can benefit. The trees also provide lumber and protection from the negative effects of coastal erosion.
By protecting these extremely valuable and unique forests, Myanmar’s environmental conservation (and, indirectly, economy) can benefit from long-term, sustainable sources of income.
So how do Myanmar’s tree planting drones work?
The drones, which come from BioCarbon Engineering, start by mapping the soil and topography to study the best places to plant certain species of mangrove trees in order to maximize the chances of survival. Following the survey of the land, a second wave of drones uses an algorithm-designed map to plant up to 100,000 mangrove seeds in a single day by firing seeds at a high enough speed to penetrate the soil.
Although the creators of these drones are unwilling to share detailed information on the evolution of these drones (due to their fear about competition already attempting to copy the technology), BioCarbon Engineering has tested the technology in Australia by successfully planting a forest over an abandoned coal mine.
One final question remains: what effect will Myanmar’s tree planting drones have on the villagers they are replacing?
Fortunately, these drones will not completely replace the villagers. While the drones may operate 10 times faster and at half the cost of human hands, the trees will still require proper care and nurturing, particularly as saplings, provided by humans. Fortunately, local communities will have plenty of extra time to achieve need, now that the actual planting of the tree is taken care of by machine.
The project is still in its early stages, and so still requires permission from Myanmar’s government to undertake its mission at full scale. Nevertheless, Myanmar (with help from the U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organization) is expected to soon use drone technology to map out the nation’s topography to avert disaster risks to agriculture in the future.
– Brad Tait