Environment

RESTORING FORESTS WITH DRONES, A REALITY TODAY

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Green Minute News

Planting one lakh trees a day is an unbelievable reality today, however, made possible by using drone technology. This is cheaper and faster with the survival rate of tree species being better, the developers claim.

An Australian company has come out with this technology which they claim is better than aerial seeding or throwing seed balls to reforest our degraded lands. Mapping the soil and species suitability, a nutrient filled ‘seed pod’ is fired by drones at the exact place in a selected area for right penetration.

In a day and age where development and technology are antonyms of ecology and environment, nowadays, drone technology is in the path of making substantial efforts to reverse the mindless deforestation caused by mankind. An idea which germinated in the year 2009 to an ex-NASA engineer and sprouted to form Biocarbon Engineering in 2014, had the first paid project in 2017.

A number of other companies and organizations are following suit to save the world from the very real threats of climate change.

How does it work?

The drones fly over an area, map it, and collect soil and topography data in order to determine the best time and locations to plant the seeds. The germinated seeds are then fired into the ground housed in biodegradable pods with precision and accuracy to ensure the survival of the world’s best natural air purifier. 

The advantages of the drones are not limited to the speed and effectiveness of seed distribution but also in its ability to access unfriendly terrains, slopes and even shorelines as in the case of restoring mangrove forests in Myanmar. This September 2018  Biocarbon Engineering project in Myanmar has shown results with the seed pods growing into half a meter mangrove plants.

Normal weather no longer being normal poses another definitive challenge. The unpredictability of the rains is a sure threat for the growth of these seedlings. Regular flyovers by the drones collect data after the seeds are planted to monitor the success rate.

This is also seen as the solution to revive back areas of the earth scarred by mining, logging and other large scale deforestation activities along with natural disasters like forest fires and climate influenced tree falling.

With an estimated loss of about 15 billion trees each year from both acts of man and acts of nature, drones seem to be the only way to restore the balance. It is estimated that 10 drones have the capacity to plant 400,000 trees per day and all it takes is two operators to work them. Going by this, 10 billion trees can be planted by just 400 teams each year.

The good news being researchers have identified there is enough place to plant another 1.2 trillion trees and these drones could be the very answer to achieve that.

The Indian Scenario

In India, scientists from Indian Institute of Science, Bengaluru have been working towards restoring forests in degraded areas with drones from June 2017.  In fact, the project trials are going on in Kolar district, Karnataka, India with Prof KPJ Reddy, Department of Aerodynamics and other scientists taking the lead. A three year project, the drones carry cameras to record the progress of the project wherein the data will be analyzed to get better inputs for planting of trees.

This project has been taken up in consultation with the state forest department of Karnataka. Native monsoon species like tamarind, gooseberry, neem, pongamia,etc were selected and pre-soaked in water which was mixed with manure and soil to make it into a seed ball. Each drone is capable of carrying 10 kgs of seed balls and can carry out planting operations for an hour at a stretch. However, the project is still in an experimental stage and any success will only be known after three years.

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