Environment Agency – Abu Dhabi (EAD) has planted one million mangrove seeds using drones, as part of the first phase of a drone mangrove plantation project supporting the Abu Dhabi Mangrove Initiative.
The Abu Dhabi Mangrove Initiative was announced in February 2021 during His Royal Highness Prince William, the Duke of Cambridge’s landmark visit to the UAE, where he met with His Highness Sheikh Khaled bin Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Member of the Abu Dhabi Executive Council and Chairman of Abu Dhabi Executive Office, at Jubail Mangrove Park.
This initiative, which is implemented by EAD with a series of local, regional and international partners, supports Abu Dhabi’s ambitious plans to establish the emirate as a global hub for research and innovation in support of the conservation of mangroves, and focuses on the importance of mangroves for carbon sequestration to combat climate change.
The initiative supports the UAE Ministry of Climate Change and Environment’s target, announced during COP26 in Glasgow in 2021, that unveiled a nationwide plan to plant 100 million mangroves by 2030. Following this, in February of this year, the Abu Dhabi Mangrove Initiative was launched.
EAD is the first organisation to utilise and plant mangroves at a large-scale utilising ecological principles, enhanced by drones. The planting of one million seeds follows a successful initial phase implemented by EAD in partnership with ENGIE, the global energy company, and Distant Imagery, a drone engineering solutions company.
This initial phase focused on planting mangroves via drone in 2020, with up to a 48 per cent success rate. EAD then scaled up the project, with one million mangroves planted via drones at different locations around Al Mirfa, in Al Dhafra Region.
The use of drone technology to plant mangroves has several advantages. The environmental footprint of the methodology is low, as it removes the need of intense labour, and the need of sapling transportation. It is also cost effective as it reduces the overall price of mangrove planting, eliminates the need of mangrove nurseries and associated costs, and facilitates reaching remote and difficult areas. The project is also running a trial on incorporating machine learning for future monitoring phases.
Her Excellency Dr Shaikha Salem Al Dhaheri, Secretary General of EAD, said: “The UAE began mangrove plantation in the 1970s under the guidance of the late Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan, Founder of the UAE and also known as the First Environmentalist. He commenced mangrove plantation along the coasts of the islands and mainland of the emirate of Abu Dhabi. Using the knowledge of local communities and his foresight, Sheikh Zayed advised on and supervised the project, and for the late Sheikh Zayed, the plantation of mangroves, whether it was on terrestrial or marine habitats, was a passion. The Eastern Mangrove plantation was the inception of the first mangrove plantation programme of Abu Dhabi.
“Despite the fact that the world’s mangroves are declining due to natural and human challenges they are facing, Abu Dhabi has a different story to tell as the plantation of mangroves has continued in the UAE at large and in Abu Dhabi in particular, in a slow but steady manner. A prime example is our latest project of planting one million mangrove seeds via innovative drone technology. This project is one of a number of programmes run by the Abu Dhabi Mangrove Initiative in support to the UAE’s pledge to plant 100 million mangroves in 2030.
“The success rate for this year’s planting looks great so far and based on the data this year we will do a refilling of areas for future success of the project. This project is a continuation of our efforts to mitigate the disastrous effects of climate change as mangroves have proven to be very efficient at carbon sequestration, thus reducing the levels of carbon dioxide entering the atmosphere.”
With each planting round EAD has been evolving not only its methodology for seed germination and site planting patterns, but also seed dispersal mechanisms and drones so that they can fly longer. The drone is self-designed and engineered to drop seedlings from the air, monitor the growth of mangrove saplings, map the habitat and create 3D imaging.
The agency plans to further evolve its methodologies and technology. Data has shown that the growth of the seed in-situ using drones has a success rate that remains stable over three years.
In Abu Dhabi, plantation programmes have helped increase the range of mangroves. The increase of mangrove areas in Abu Dhabi was more than 35 per cent, and is the result of plantation and restoration programmes, as well as protection laws and regulations that ensure the sustainability of environmental ecosystems.
In the past 10 years, EAD and its key stakeholders, from both the government and private sector have planted more than 15 million mangroves along the coast of Abu Dhabi.