Using Drones to Protect Mangrove Forests in Ecuador

October 6, 2022; By Carolyn Sotka, Marine Grants Officer

Mangroves are among the world’s most diverse and productive ecosystems and not only provide habitat for wildlife but also prevent coastal erosion, filter land-based pollution, and provide a buffer against storm surges. In addition to the importance of these ecosystems for coastal livelihoods – mangroves absorb approximately 400% more carbon than their terrestrial counterparts, making them an important ‘blue carbon’ site. Thus, protecting existing mangroves and rebuilding ones that have been lost is critical.

Threats to mangroves include destructive coastal development and fill, use of areas for shrimp farming, and logging for wood and leaf products. Also, illegal fishing is a major problem due to the role mangroves as protected nurseries for the early life stages of fish.

The densely packed root system of mangrove forests makes it difficult to navigate by boat and enforce any illegal activities. Only channels are navigable for patrols.

To improve enforcement and strengthen protection of mangrove forests in coastal Ecuador, WildAid Marine’s Latin America team facilitated a training on how to use drones for surveillance of illegal activities. In September, 2022 15 park rangers from 5 coastal marine protected areas (MPAs) were trained in the operation of drones for control and monitoring of mangroves in Churute (Guayas Province).

WildAid Marine organized the training with the collaboration of Arenillas Ecological Reserve, Churute Manglares Ecological Reserve, Manglares El Morro Wildlife Refuge and National Recreation Area, and the Galapagos National Park. This training was conducted by the Drone Surveillance Team of the Arenillas Ecological Reserve, who have years of experience operating unmanned aerial vehicles.

Training was led by Conservation International Ecuador and Ecuador’s Ministry of Environment, Water and Ecological Transition

Training included use of technologies, drone regulations, assembly and configuration of equipment, use of pilot applications and controls, flight plans, surveillance strategies, and registration of flight data.

WildAid works with governments and partners in Latin America to protect fragile MPAs from illegal fishing, increase public and political will against poaching, and reduce the impacts of climate change.