Imagine a vast territory of rainforest and natural savannah deep in the Amazon in the Guiana Shield. An area of 7 million sparsely populated acres, where illegal logging and mining persists because the land is so far from any watchful eyes or enforcement.
This area is where the Wapichana people of Guyana live, on the edge of the rainforest around the Rupununi savannah. Their seasonal hunting and fishing grounds deep in the forest are under threat from illegal gold mining and forestry, and they asked for Digital Demcoracy’s help to create an early-warning system to monitor this activity, which contaminates their rivers with mercury and threatens their way of life. How does a small group of monitors cover 7 million acres?
One word: Satellites.
We’re working with community monitors in Guyana, the local District Toshaos (Chief’s) Council and their implementing body, the South Central Peoples Development Association, Forest Peoples Programme, the American Academy for the Advancement of Science & a top-notch team of technologists to create an early warning platform built on Google Earth Engine that will combine realtime satellite analysis with literal groundtruthing to give our partners tools to detect illegal activities as quickly as possible, allowing them to alert community authorities and take action to stop them. Thanks to a grant from Google Earth Outreach, we’re building a simple user interface and email workflow for Wapichana monitors on the ground to receive alerts about changes in forest cover and go out and verify whether illegal activity is taking place and report back to the community and choose a course of action.
We’re excited about this project because it puts complex satellite analysis into the hands of indigenous communities and empowers them to make informed decisions to protect their territory. Normally this kind of work would require powerful computers, a fast internet connection and a trained GIS expert. Google Earth Engine allows us to automate analysis in the cloud as Google download and process the latest satellite imagery from NASA Landsat 8 and MODIS. We’re building an API and simple UI on top of Earth Engine that enables the Wapichana to interact with this data over email and a simple website.
In fall 2013 we are testing the initial platform as well as conducting in-person trainings with communities in Guyana. The entire project will be open source and we hope it will have further applications enabling other communities to access remote sensing technology to monitor their territory and environment.