Geo-spatial data is vital in ecosystem restoration

By Temitope D. Timothy OYEDOTUN, PhD

Published: June 5, 2021 • World Environment Day 2021 •

The use of high spatial resolution satellite sensors are recommended to improve phenological assessments of mangrove species and examine the soft sediment terrain, saline conditions, and mud bank sediments.

Temitope D. Timothy Oyedotun ✉️, Department of Geography, Faculty of Earth and Environmental Sciences, University of Guyana, Turkeyen Campus

This essay is part of a series by the University of Guyana, Department of Environmental Studies on the United Nations Decade on Ecosystem Restoration 2021-2030. It was first published in the Guyana Chronicle on World Environment Day (June 5, 2021).

Global environmental issues, including but not limited to ecosystem degradation and numerous threats from climate change-induced phenomena, harm human wellbeing and health as well as challenge the sustainability of Earth. Academic literature, global debates, and numerous United Nations’ led conventions and targets are all pointing to the fact that there is an unprecedented and urgent need for initiation of processes to repair natural environments that have been degraded, damaged or destroyed because of relentless uses or disregards. There is indeed a widespread agreeable position for ecosystem restoration on all fronts. Yes, solutions are urgently needed for the repair of what has been destroyed over the decades. Solutions are being sought through various initiatives and leadership, many of which are through international frameworks, national policies and roadmaps, trans-disciplinary and multi-disciplinary approaches, national, and international political governance and financial commitments, and the emergence of many environmental activists. The present society is flooded with views, opinions and messages of environmental degradations and the challenge of repairing them. Several ambitious United Nations’ driven global restoration targets have been set over the decades, such as Millennium Ecosystem Assessment and UN Convention on Biological Diversity Aiche Targets, and now UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration. These are often supported by a number of country-specific plans, policies, and strategies that focus on the ecosystem and ecological restorations.

The decision-making and environmental governance targeted at ecosystem restoration require the ability to monitor, quantify, and understand the ecological changes over long time periods before these efforts could be realised. Understanding the drivers of degradation and destruction of ecological landscapes could also be achieved through the accurate measurement and critical analysis of ecosystem changes, flows, processes, and responses. These actions and activities can benefit tremendously from geospatial data. Spatial data can be used to model geographic distributions of sensitive ecological areas for restoration and preservation. This can guide planning, implementation, monitoring, and evaluation to ensure the success of ecosystem restoration in the next decade, globally and nationally. The application of geospatial data informs evidence-based decision-making by demonstrating the value of near-real-time measurements and remotely sensed data for raising the level of awareness and understanding of ecosystem changes, which will support restoration efforts.

Ecosystems (whether terrestrial, fluvial, marine or coastal) do not exist in isolation; they exist in interconnected geographical spaces. The processes that contribute to their depletion and degradation also exist in similar spaces, regardless of whether they are naturally or anthropogenically driven. Therefore, to achieve ecosystem restoration, whether for its biodiversity, the services it provides, or the infrastructure needed to make it a reality, the actors saddled with the decision making or the establishment of an integrated decision-making process and planning for restoration would need to rely intrinsically and integrally on geospatial data. In Guyana, advanced geospatial data (e.g. remotely sensed imagery) are being used by NAREI and University of Guyana researchers to map the extent and structure of mangrove forests along the Guyana coastline. These are done to monitor the growth and dynamics of this rare natural barrier resource that protect inland ecosystems from flooding, coastline erosion, and saltwater intrusion. Similarly, the spatiotemporal pattern of mangrove degradation and strategic planning for community engagement to prevent mangrove loss, make use of geospatial databases that are continuously updated through remote sensing platforms.

Guyana has a dearth of information regarding mangrove species assessments using phenologically-based approaches and species-level classification. The use of high spatial resolution satellite sensors are recommended to improve phenological assessments of mangrove species and examine the soft sediment terrain, saline conditions, and mud bank sediments. In addition, the recent cloud-based Google Earth Engine platform provides a large repository of satellite imagery for geospatial analysis. This could be used to rapidly examine phenological mangrove patterns, and determine the profiles of vegetation indices to analyse key variables needed for restoration decision and plans. In this UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration (2021 – 2030), we should leverage geospatial technologies to pursue innovative efforts that will aid in the understanding of this highly dynamic environment.

This essay is part of a University of Guyana series in observance of the United Nations Decade on Ecosystem Restoration 2021-2030.