Mangroves are a type of forest-like ecosystem that occur on sheltered tropical coastlines around the world. They typically consist of shrubs or trees in brackish coastal waters, and create a vital form of protection for the coastlines on which they exist. They have suffered from systematic deforestation over the past few decades, typically for timber or for the cultivation of aquaculture. The removal of mangroves and their rooting systems, which formed effective binds for the soil system, means that erosion increases on a large scale when mangroves are removed.


Red mangroves in the South Water Caye Marine Reserve (Picture: Getty)

In the face of rising sea levels, climate change and the prospect of increased storminess, it becomes vitally important to try and restore the natural protection afforded by mangrove ecosystems. The re-planting of mangroves is a slow and laborious task, but recently, the coverage and speed with which replanting can be achieved has enjoyed a welcome boost from drone technology.


5 Reasons to prevent mangrove deforestation. Infographic from Center for International Forestry Research with reference to Indonesia.

UK company BioCarbon Engineering have been pioneering the way to plant trees using drone technology, in an effort to reduce the time and manpower required. The four primary benefits they quote for the use of drones are:

  • Applicable to challenging environments where traditional access is problematic.
  • Manageable for large scale projects, with the use of multiple drones per site and full automation.
  • Fast and precision planting.
  • Entire ecosystem restoration, with planting mechanisms capable of restoring a wide catalogue of species over a variety of environments.

BCE state that their capability allows a single pilot, operating 6 drones to plant 100,000 trees per day at full operating capacity. The process operates by first of all mapping an area, using a drone flying 100 m above the ground, creating £d elevation maps which record soil type and quality, existing cover and moisture content. Then planting is achieved by a drone flying back over the area at 2 m height, shooting seed pods into the soil to enhance germination.

This is just the latest application of drones to coastal management, monitoring and protection. They have already proved useful in mapping beach volume change, monitoring coastal change, tracking storms response and map ecologies.

Dr Sebastian Pitman is a researcher in coastal morphodynamics at the University of Southampton. Take a look at some of his research here.