Indonesia: High-resolution map to protect nation’s peatland

Hans Nicholas Jong The Jakarta Post 22 Oct 16;

The government has started producing a detailed peatland map using light detection and ranging (LiDAR) technology to better manage the nation’s peatland forests.

A lack of detailed peatland maps has led to many problems such as overlapping permits and rampant slash-and-burn practices.

LiDAR is a surveying method that measures distance to a target by illuminating that target with a laser light. The laser light is shot from a small plane.

The Peatland Restoration Agency (BRG) began on Wednesday mapping 170,000 hectares of peatland in South Sumatra, specifically Ogan Komering Ilir regency and Musi Banyuasin regency, which were badly ravaged by massive land and forest fires last year.

Besides South Sumatra, the government will also produce maps for damaged peatland in Meranti regency in Riau and Pulang Pisau regency in Central Kalimantan this year.

“This map will become the basis of our planning [to restore burned peatland],” BRG head Nazir Foead said in Palembang, before boarding a small plane to start the mapping process. “In order to make a good plan, we’re not brave enough without this map.”

He said mapping in South Sumatra, Riau and Central Kalimantan would be completed in mid-November so that the government could commence restoration, which included rewetting dried peatland, immediately.

After that, the government will move to other areas with damaged peatland.

“We will do this until 2019, with 1 hectare per year,” Nazir said.

This is the first time the government has used LiDAR technology to produce an official government map.

The technology is more advanced than just using a radar or satellite, as it is capable of producing a detailed map with scale of 1:2,000. Such a detailed map will enable the government to pinpoint areas that require restoration and protection, and canals that should be blocked.

Indonesia currently has a national peat map with a scale of 1:250,000, rendering it incapable of managing its land sustainably without environmental and social conflicts.

The government decided to use LiDAR as it can map up to 2,000 hectares of land in one hour, costing US$5 per hectare.

“The technology can also collect data day and night,” said PT ASI Pudjiastuti Geosurvey director Tri Cahyono Tristiaji.

ASI Pudjiastuti Geosurvey is among companies appointed by the government to do the mapping.

LiDAR can also take photos with exact coordinates, Tri said. “With regular satellite photos, we don’t know the coordinates. The technology can also penetrate dense vegetation.”

The commencement of the mapping was symbolized by a joyride in Ogan Komering Ilir.

Norwegian Ambassador to Indonesia Stig Traavik, who participated in the joyride, said the challenges of the restoration project were enormous. “We flew over a little spot and still we could see enormous plantations and enormous degraded land. It shows the enormity of the cost,” he said after the joy flight.

World Resource Institute Indonesia director Nirarta Samadhi said the current mapping project could set a good precedent for future mapping in Indonesia, the biggest archipelago in the world.

“Maybe there will be a new protocol for mapping using LiDAR,” he said.

With the largest tropical peatland in the world, there is no denying how important the ecosystem is for Indonesia. It acts as a major carbon sink. When a large portion of peatland in the country was burned in 2015, it pushed Indonesia to move from the world’s sixth-largest to the fourth-largest carbon emitter.

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