BY: MATTHEW CHIN
Deforestation is one of the largest contributors to global warming, with the forestry industry valued at $606 billion globally, according to the UN Food and Agricultre Organization. Not only are forests being cut down, but much of deforestation is caused naturally by rampant forest fires due to dry conditions and high temperatures.
Tropical deforestation accounts for about 10 per cent of the world’s greenhouse gasses, emitting around three billion tons of carbon dioxide—equivalent to 600 million cars’ worth of pollution every year, according to UCSUSA. Indonesia alone has the fastest rate of deforestation, losing 1.1 million hectares of forest annually, which is a third of the size of Belgium and larger than Australia’s Wet Tropics World Heritage Area, according to ConservativeBytes.
In addition to the effects of deforestation, the land that was once a thriving ecosystem loses its moisture and causes drought, which eventually leads to desertification. Every year 12 million hectares of arable land is lost to desertification, according to the UN.
In response to global deforestation, governments and individuals are planting trees to help rebuild natural ecosystems. Traditional methods of reforestation efforts include manually planting seeds or dropping seeds from the sky to grow an entire forest. However, individually planting seeds is both time consuming and labour intensive, and airdropping seeds can be costly and has a low success rate. The extreme imbalance of decimated trees to seeding efforts caused Lauren Fletcher to take action.
Fletcher, a former NASA environmental engineer for 20 years, is now the CEO of BioCarbon Engineering, an Oxford-based business intended on producing industrial scale reforestation. He developed a way to reforest the land without even setting foot on the ground. His solution: using unmanned aerial vehicles, better known as drones.
Though the ethics and legality of the use of drones are under question, using drones to plant trees is unarguably a good cause. Several drones will 3D map a location where trees can be planted, then Fletcher and his team will guide multiple drones to deploy seeds while hovering two metres above the ground. With just two people remotely operating drones, about 36,000 seeds can be planted per day. According to WorkSafeBC, the average tree planter in British Columbia plants a mere 1,600 trees per day, traveling over 16 kilometres on foot while carrying heavy loads of seedlings.
Fletcher plans to plant one billion trees annually, while costing 15 per cent less than planting seeds by hand. With seeds encased in a nutrient-rich hydrogel, they also have a higher success rate.
Fletcher plans to plant one billion trees annually. Just two people remotely operating drones, about 36,000 seeds can be planted per day. With seeds encased in a nutrient-rich hydrogel, they also have a stronger success rate.
Fletcher and his company also want to make sure that the trees he plants won’t need to be continuously watered or monitored, which is the typical problem with reforestation methods in other countries. Instead, he wants to create ecosystems that are self-sustaining.
“Ecosystems create a balance in the environment and ensure long-term viability and sustainability of the area restored,” Fletcher said in a recent post.
The seeds of the trees will match that of the existing forest to help the ecosystem thrive in its natural habitat. Once planted, the drones will measure the height, size, shape, trunk thickness and other characteristics of the trees continuously so that they survive until they become self-sufficient.
This summer, Fletcher’s drones will be fully operational and we will see whether they work on various landscapes as it is said to. Let’s hope the drones from Fletcher work so he and his team can revolutionize reforestation efforts on an industrial scale.