Mangrove deforestation alerts available for the first time.

Camellia Williams
Aug 11, 2020 · 4 min read

For the first time, data on mangrove deforestation, carbon storage and coastline protection are easily and freely accessible online. Global Mangrove Watch — a mapping platform — highlights the importance of mangroves and provides the data that are needed to inform conservation and restoration planning. With this information, decisions can be made to mitigate climate change and protect the livelihoods of billions of people who live in, and depend on, coastal areas.

Global Mangrove Watch explores the science behind remote sensing. Scientists from Aberystwyth University, soloEO, Wetlands International and The Nature Conservancy and a host of other partners joined together to provide the data. We were asked to design and build the platform, and provide Scientific support.

Global Mangrove Watch maps the extent of mangrove area. Image: Global Mangrove Watch.

Fast analysis with data integrity.

For our Scientists, the challenge was balancing the need for fast platform analysis and data integrity. Edward, one of our in-house marine experts took the lead on validating the data that feeds the widgets that visualize the data. He carefully checked the calculations to ensure the summaries displayed by the widgets are the most accurate they can be. To achieve this, pre-calculated zonal statistics for 102 countries and 160 of the largest coastal protected areas were generated using Google Earth Engine, and carefully validated by the Global Mangrove Watch experts.

Carbon calculations.

Calculating how much carbon is stored by mangroves, how much of a country’s coastline is protected by mangroves, and how these have changed in the last 25 years, generated some interesting challenges that led our Scientists to create new data products. First off, they had to combine both marine and land administrative boundaries so they could assess each country’s amount of mangroves. Next, to find how much of the coastline is protected at a level of detail not done before, they used the latest Open Street Map coastlines data and intersected this with maps of mangrove cover. From this, they could calculate the proportion of coastline with natural flood risk protection and how this has changed over the years.

To assess carbon storage, global maps of mangrove above-ground biomass and soil organic carbon were combined, allowing users to get insight into both the amount of carbon within living forests, and the massive amounts of carbon fixed in their sediments. Combining all of this with the new deforestation alerts data enables users to get an idea of where these natural assets are under threat. At each step of the process, our Scientists worked closely with the Global Mangrove Watch partners data providers — Aberystwyth University, Wetlands International, and The Nature Conservancy — to ensure the resulting analysis maintained integrity and met the needs of users.

Global Mangrove Watch calculates the amount of organic carbon stored in mangroves. Image: Global Mangrove Watch.

The role of Science in platform design and development.

Scientists have a key role in the development of the data platforms we build. Currently, we have two marine experts in our team, as well experts on ecology, climate science, and Deep Learning. They work closely with our designers and developers to ensure data are represented truthfully and accurately. Together, they find ways to explain what the data means, so people can take those insights and use them to make choices that are good for people and the planet.

As the need for climate action becomes ever more urgent, tools such as Global Mangrove Watch will mark the turning point in our ability to use data in more effective ways. We will use them to understand what’s at stake and how the worst impacts of climate change and biodiversity loss can be avoided.

The importance of mangroves.

Mangroves, which grow in tropical areas, are a vital part of the coastal ecosystem. They have a crucial role in the fight against climate change and biodiversity loss. The spaces between their submerged roots are sanctuaries for growing fish. Their trunks and branches provide protection against coastal erosion and the devastation inflicted by tsunamis. Manatees, crab-eating monkeys, crocodiles, turtles, crabs, and many species of birds are all found in mangroves, each one contributing to the cycle of nutrients that provide food for everything else.

Protection for mangroves is protection for coastal communities. Action informed by data can support those who are already most impacted by climate change.

Camellia is Vizzuality’s Lead Writer. She writes about design and technology and how it can help mitigate climate change and protect biodiversity. She drinks tea, but never coffee.

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Vizzuality Blog

Posts on data design, user research, open data, and software development. We create tools and applications with a lasting benefit to society and the environment.