Hovering low over the ground and shooting mangrove seeds into the water, drones may become a common sight in Myanmar by the end of the year. It's part of a reforestation project that aims to restore a natural ecosystem that is beneficial to wildlife, the environment and the local population.
In the Irrawaddy Delta in the south of Myanmar, mangrove forests have been significantly depleted - often cut down so that people can use the area to plant rice, farm for prawns and collect palm oil. But mangroves have an important role to play in the ecosystem of the delta. As well as filtering the water, they also provide safe areas for fish and other marine life to live and grow, and capture large amounts of carbon from the atmosphere. And they protect coastal communities from flooding too, by naturally stabilising shorelines. It's thought that the cyclone that hit Myanmar in 2008 would have caused far less damage and loss of life if the Delta hadn't lost half of its mangrove area.
People are aware that reforestation is needed, and moves have already been made to begin the process. Inhabitants of the Delta have so far planted 2.7 million mangrove trees by hand - an elaborate and time-consuming process.
But soon their reforestation efforts will be receiving a boost from a company called BioCarbon Engineering. Starting in September of 2017, they plan to use drones to plant one million mangrove trees over an area of 250 hectares. Using drones that can plant up to 100,000 trees a day, they could ultimately be able to plant up to a billion trees in the area.
First a mapping drone sets out to fly over the area at a height of 100 metres, assessing the topography and the quality of the ground. The data collected is then analysed to work out the best places to plant. After that, a second swarm of drones is responsible for carrying out the planting, dropping the seeds in the places set out in the plan. Flying at very low levels, the drones shoot the seeds - which are held in special little seed pods - into the ground. Locals are employed to collect the seeds and place them in the seed pods as well as take care of the young plants as they grow. Each drone pilot can control up to six individual drones, planting a total of 100,000 new trees a day.
The project is one of the winners of the BridgeBuilder Challenge 2017, which has netted them 242,800 USD to support their work - from the planting stage right up to monitoring and assessing the success of the project.
This article is a translation by Marisa Pettit of the original article which appeared on RESET's German-language site.