ManglarIA: Using artificial intelligence to save mangroves in a changing climate

Mangroves in Marismas Nacionales Biosphere Reserve, Nayarit.

Healthy mangrove ecosystems are nature’s multitaskers, and they are essential to address the climate crisis. These coastal forests absorb and store significant amounts of carbon dioxide and protect coastal communities and infrastructure from storm surge and erosion. But these unique ecosystems are under threat from increased temperatures, changing rainfall, sea level rise, and other effects of climate change. To effectively conserve these coastal forests for the future, we need to learn how mangroves and the services they provide are affected by these threats and adapt our conservation strategies accordingly.

ManglarIA, “AI for Mangroves” in Spanish, is an innovative project that will expand our understanding of nature-based solutions—natural systems or processes used to help achieve societal goals—using a wide range of advanced technologies, including artificial intelligence (AI). Through this project, our goal is to create a model for data collection and analysis that can inform climate-smart ecosystem conservation worldwide. The project is supported by Google.org and was launched in July 2023.

How artificial intelligence can help mangroves fight the climate crisis

Young man wearing a tank top is in the mangroves and reaches across the branches with a monitoring device in his hand.

WWF and its partners will deploy various sensors—such as weather stations, camera traps, and drones— in Mexico’s Ría Lagartos along the coast of the Yucatan Peninsula and Marismas Nacionales Biosphere Reserves in Naryarit along the Pacific Coast. These sensors and other technologies will provide huge amounts of data on mangrove health. The data collected will include important environmental variables such as air and sea surface temperatures, seawater salinity, freshwater flows, and the presence of animals. AI will look for patterns in this data to help us answer questions such as how carbon stocks are changing over time, how quickly mangroves can recover from hurricanes, and which mangroves species are most resilient to environmental change. This information will be used to adapt our mangrove conservation strategies to help ensure the long-term viability of mangroves as a nature-based solution.

Click on the areas to see the zoomed in mangrove area.

Marismas Nacionales Nayarit Biosphere Reserve

Marismas Nacionales area zoomed in on the West coast of Mexico

Ría Lagartos Biosphere Reserve

Zoomed in area of Ria Lagartos on the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico

Project Implementation

This three-year initiative will generate much-needed data and demonstrate how AI can provide insights into how Mexico’s mangroves help fight the climate crisis. Project implementation involves four key phases: set up, monitoring, learning, and scaling and sustaining. Communities will participate in each of these efforts, and if the innovative approach is successful, the world will have a replicable model that harnesses data from networked environmental sensors to inform “climate-smart” ecosystem restoration and management.

Set up

  • Collaboration and beneficiary identification
  • Identifying and installing sensors
  • Research design and conceptual framework development
  • Establishing process for documenting and disseminating learnings
  • Community workshops, including training for sensor installation and monitoring

Monitoring

  • Collect data on key environmental variables
  • Regular reviews to troubleshoot any challenges with sensors, data, or platforms
  • Use data to inform decision-making and optimize project strategies
  • Regular community meetings to review sensors and data ouput

Learning

  • Use AI to process large datasets to uncover patterns, correlations, and insights
  • Optimize the use of AI and other tools to enhance the depth and accuracy of knowledge about how mangroves respond to climate variables
  • Ground truth data collection with community observations

Scaling and sustaining

  • Formulate recommendations for long-term mangrove health and economic resilience
  • Expand partnerships with local organizations and across sectors and regions
  • Explore diverse funding sources for a long-term funding strategy
  • Implement initiatives that empower local communities and organizations to sustain monitoring and evaluating mangroves

Benefitting communities

People are at the center of ManglarIA. The project respects data ethics, ensuring that biodiversity monitoring follows guidelines for good data management practices and reflect the crucial role of data in advancing Indigenous innovation and self-determination (read more at Go Fair and Global Indigenous Data Governance) as recommended by the Global Partnership on Artificial Intelligence i. Both sets of principles are vital to the development and monitoring of AI-powered data analysis. In the context of local communities, it is important to follow data ethics around data sovereignty and privacy.

Community members will help install, maintain, and collect data from the project sensors. They will also directly benefit from the outputs of these sensors. For example, data from weather stations can be used for early warning systems for hurricanes and other weather events, while other sensors will provide information on sea surface temperatures that can inform fishing and other aquaculture activities. Furthermore, the data collected can be incorporated into lessons in science classrooms. Engaging with local communities will be an opportunity to also compare and improve the accuracy of the data we collect from sensors with local observations.

[i] GPAI 2022. Biodiversity & Artificial Intelligence, Opportunities and Recommendations, Report, November 2022, Global Partnership on AI.

Data collection and availability

Data collection and analysis is key to climate-smart conservation. After establishing a baseline of environmental conditions in the two project sites, AI will analyze existing and newly collected data over the course of the project to identify how mangrove health, carbon, coastal protection, and fisheries are affected by extreme weather and climate variability. WWF and project partners will incorporate these insights into conservation plans to maximize chances for successful restoration and long-term management, guide the implementation of climate-smart conservation, and ensure the durability of a nature-based solution for climate change.

Data from this project will be made available to governments, conservation organizations, research institutions, and local communities. Ultimately, we hope that ManglarIA can serve as a model for other geographies and ecosystems globally.

As the project progresses, stay tuned for more information on data collection and availability. Information about this project is also available in Spanish on WWF-Mexico's website.

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