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June 18, 2015
Collaboration set to Map Path for Ecologically and Sustainable Economic Growth

June 18, 2015 — Ecometrica, the world-leading sustainability software and data company, has partnered with scientists at Edinburgh Napier and other universities to build an application that will help developing world governments ensure their economic growth is ecologically sustainable.

The application, hosted on the Ecometrica Platform, collates satellite imagery to show the scale of environmental degradation to mangrove forests over time, and is being used to highlight the need for a new model of shrimp farming in the Indian Ocean and plan a more sustainable approach.

An integral part of iCoast, a research project led by Edinburgh Napier University, the publicly available tool allows the changes that have taken place to be tracked on a map. The project has collated satellite imagery of the Kenyan and Sri Lankan coastlines for a variety of dates over the last two decades and starkly illustrates how the Kalpitiya-Puttalam lagoon, part of Sri Lanka's 1,700km coastline, has experienced rapid conversion of natural habitat to shrimp ponds over the past 20 years.

The conversion of mangrove forests into shrimp ponds has dramatically changed this site within the coastal landscape in Sri Lanka, leaving local communities at greater risk from extreme weather events like flooding and tsunamis which the mangrove belt has traditionally protected them from. Mangroves also provide habitat for marine animals such as crabs, shrimps and juvenile fish, as well as locking in large amounts of carbon.

The data also showed that the shrimp farms are generally abandoned after just a few years because of the incidence of disease in the pools, leaving a scarred landscape that is difficult for natural species to re-colonise.

Karin Viergever, Ecometrica's head of land use and spatial analysis, and her team helped to build the application alongside iCoast's academics, using Ecometrica Platform’s Mapping modules. She said: “The application can be accessed from anywhere in the world, and provides clear visual documentation of the damage being wrought by unsustainable farming methods. With data to show what is happening over time, it should now be possible for policymakers to steer development in a more sustainable direction.”

She added: “Our web platform allows similar maps to be built for other areas, and is already being used across a variety of projects.”

As well as mapping changes in the environment of a major wetland site in Sri Lanka since 1992, the iCoast project looked at the potential for climate compatible development (CCD) in the coastal zone and aimed to identify the right policy and regulatory framework to set coastal farming in Kenya and Sri Lanka on a more sustainable path. As part of the iCoast programme, two Sri Lankan professionals came to Scotland to train on Ecometrica's application, and they have now returned to their native country where they will be demonstrating it to policymakers.

Professor Mark Huxham of Edinburgh Napier University,  one of the leaders of the iCoast project, said: “Our study highlights the need for integrated planning in coastal areas, particularly in mangrove forests which are of huge importance for their ability to protect the coast and their tremendous ability to capture and store carbon.

“In Sri Lanka's Puttalam Lagoon, one of the areas studied, shrimp farming increased by 2,777 per cent between 1992 and 2012, with mangroves declining by 34 per cent. But by the end of the period, most of the shrimp farms had been abandoned. None of this is sustainable, and there is now a pressing need to rehabilitate the abandoned ponds.

“There remain significant challenges in developing the right fiscal and regulatory frameworks required to deliver the incentives and governance conditions necessary for coastal zone CCD to occur through these emerging Payment for Ecosystem Services markets. Data from earth observation and mapping have huge potential to positively inform regulatory decisions, and technology such as the Ecometrica Mapping platform make applications usable and accessible to local stakeholders and policy makers.”

The iCoast project was funded by the Climate & Development Knowledge Network (CDKN) and carried out by Edinburgh Napier University, LTS International, University of Birmingham in the UK, the Kenya Marine and Fisheries Research Institute (KMFRI), and Ruhuna University in Sri Lanka, in collaboration with Ecometrica. All satellite data was donated to the project by Planet Action. The application is available on https://icoast.ourecosystem.com

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