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Can drones reforest the Gulf region?
Drones are planting hundreds of thousands of desert tree seeds
Oman's Environment Authority (EA) this week announced that it had used drones to sow 250,000 wild tree seeds in Al Sarain Reserve in the wilayat of Amerat, in the Sultanate's capital area. The project is part of the authority's initiative to plant 10 million wild trees by 2030 and drones are playing an increasing role in the effort. In fact, there now seem to be new forestation projects using drone technology all across the #GCC states.
The EA has already used drones to plant different species of tree seeds in ecosystems across the Sultanate of Oman. Last year it used drones to scatter one million mangrove seeds in the wilayat of Mahout on the country's south coast over a four day period.
Meanwhile, at Oman's national pavilion in Expo 2020 Dubai, the 'Sustainability Forest' exhibit showcases the Million Date Palm Plantation Project. The project uses drone technology to pollinate date palm trees across eleven farms scattered across the country, 300 times faster than traditional pollination. The technology project is driven by Omani startup Wakan Tech, with funding from the Oman Technology Fund.
Drones are playing a key role in the forestation of the #UAE too. UAE on-demand petrol delivery startup CAFU developed a drone project to plant tree seeds. With the first pilot project using specially developed drones to plant 4,000 tree seeds in 2019, the startup plans to help plant millions of ghaf trees in the Emirates.
The drought-tolerant ghaf tree has been identified by environmental organisations as critically important to the region's ecology, representing a key food source and habitat for a wide range of animals and birds. The drones used to disperse the seeds fire a high velocity 'seedball' at the ground, aiming to embed the seeds at least one centimetre under the surface.
In 2020, the UAE Ministry of Climate Change and Environment (MoCCAE), in cooperation with the Nikai Group of Companies and Falcon Eye Drones Services (FEDS), used drones to disperse six million ghaf tree and acacia tree seeds across 25 locations in the northern, eastern, and central regions of the UAE.
In a separate project, FEDS, in partnership with Zayed University and the International Centre for Biosaline Agriculture, planted 250,000 Ghaf seeds and 6 million samar tree seeds across a 150 square kilometre area.
In Abu Dhabi, global utility company Engie has partnered with the Environment Agency – Abu Dhabi (EAD) to use drones to plant thousands of mangrove tree seeds. The Mangrove Rehabilitation Project uses drones to both plant and monitor the growth of the mangrove trees, near the company's Mirfa water and power plant west of Abu Dhabi city. As of January 2022, more than 35,000 mangrove seeds had been planted around Mirfa lagoon.
#Saudi Arabia is also leveraging specialised drones to fast-track forestation. In Hail, in the north of the country, drones are being used to plant 100,000 trees in the Imam Turki bin Abdullah Royal Reserve. At the Royal Reserve of Abdul Aziz in Riyadh drones were used earlier this year to disperse 300,000 sidr tree seeds.
Drones do seem to be accelerating the effort to plant native desert trees in the Kingdom and throughout the region. The Gulf's most ambitious forestation initiative - as part of the green initiatives launched by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman last year - is Saudi Arabia's plan to plant 10 billion trees.
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