Myanmar Experiments with Drones to Replant Dwindling Mangroves

By Moe Myint 8 February 2018

YANGON — Environmentalists in Myanmar used to plant mangroves by hand. On Wednesday, however, the Worldview International Foundation staged a drone-planting demonstration in Yangon with plans for a pilot project in the Irrawaddy delta.

Myanmar has lost at least 1 million hectares of mangrove forest over the past several decades, making it more vulnerable to cyclones and climate change.

UN Environment Executive Director Erik Solheim, who attended the demonstration, told The Irrawaddy that mangroves provide critical habitat for fish and can prevent large waves stirred up by tropical cyclones from reaching deep inland and saltwater from invading farmland.

International experts say growing more mangroves could also help tackle global warming because they can store two to four times more carbon dioxide than most other tropical forests.

In his opening remarks for the event at the National Races Village, Yangon Chief Minister U Phyo Min Thein said the regional government had already decided to replant more than 10,000 acres of mangrove forest this year with hopes of eventually turning Yangon into a “green city” that might attract more tourists.

“This is the very first time for Myanmar and we really thank the NGOs,” he said. “We won’t wait to grow mangroves next year. We are going to plant now and are looking for vacant land in Kha Yan, Thone Kwa and Kyauk Tan.”

According to the chief minister, relevant government departments were working on mapping the designated sites and would strive to speed up the replanting process in the coming years.

Although the government and non-profit groups have been planting mangroves for years, he said many of those areas have been damaged by businesspeople from Yangon building commercial fishing ponds. He said some businesspeople were still trying to add nearly 1,000 more acres of fishing ponds that would destroy yet more mangrove forest.

“Manmade fishing irrigation in mangrove forests destroys mangrove trees because the tide can no longer reach the riverbank when it comes in. So we will restrict residents from entering the new mangrove forests and will plant mangroves on alluvial land near the Gulf of Mottama,” U Phyo Min Thein said.

Bremley Lyngdoh, founder and CEO of Worldview Impact and a board member of Worldview International, said a single pilot can use the drones, courtesy of BioCarbon Engineering, to plant about 100,000 seeds per day. The drones can fire one seedpod into the soil every minute and fly for approximately half an hour at a time.

However, the drones cannot carry the larger seedpods of some mangrove species found along the coasts of Rakhine State and Tanintharyi Region.

Each drone, including software, costs about $50,000, enough to buy 10 used luxury Japanese cars at the official government rate.