Using drones, texts and blogs to combat deforestation in Borneo

This week our friends at Greenpeace tweeted a link to a powerful interactive media site, which documents how a community on the Island of Borneo is using homemade drones, text messages and blogging to combat deforestation. The site was created by Radio Television Suisse and a non-profit journalism program. We decided to take a look to see how they created this powerful media tool.


Using data visualizations, videos and GIFs, the interactive focused on three ways the community fought back:

  • Drones – A community used homemade drones to map deforestation by logging companies and illegal dumping of toxic waste by mining companies.
  • Citizen journalists – 300 activists were trained by a local television station to document pollution violations by large corporate palm tree farms reporting them via SMS to the station.
  • Blog – A group of youth created a powerful platform to voice their villages daily experiences focusing mainly on environmental degradation in the community.

Using Drones

With the help of a local organization called the Swandiri Institute, one community on the island started a campaign using homemade drones to prove a mining company was operating outside of its zoning area. Through the footage they were able to show the company was illegally dumping bauxite into a nearby lake an important source of industry and food for the community.

The community expanded their campaign to further document illegal logging activities around their communities. Together with the Swandiri Institute, they were able to map the extent of the deforestation over time.

The drone footage was used to create GIS data, which the published online as an interactive map showing which companies were violating their permits and where. Through this documentation and data collection, they pressured government authorities to take punitive action against the logging companies.

Citizen Journalists

The site also explored another community initiative in which a local television station trained 300 citizen journalists on how to document and report on violations by palm tree production companies.
The citizen journalists documented the planting violations and other cases of water pollution. They would text the data they collected along with photos and videos of the violation to the television station, which in turn would broadcast the violations on twice weekly broadcasts. The data was also passed on to government regulatory authorities who in some cases fined the plantation companies or revoked their permits.

Water pollution in Borneo.

Community Blog

Last but not least the site explores how a group of local youth on the island started a blog about daily life in their community.  Each evening they gathered under that same tree, which is the only place in their town where they get reception.  The blog has become a source of news about what is happening in and around their town of Kelompok Muda Tani.  They have produced videos, reported on local efforts to combat environmental destruction and created a space to tell their stories.



By Dave Thatcher

Dave is currently a student Metropolitan State University of Denver focusing on convergent journalism and multimedia advocacy studies. He has a strong interest in emerging digital storytelling techniques and new ways to achieve audience engagement and social impact through multimedia. Prior to his multimedia studies, Dave spent several years working in the field of refugee resettlement in the United States. Additionally he worked abroad in Sub-Saharan Africa as protections specialist for human rights defenders. In his spare time, Dave can be found wandering the winding streets of Istanbul in search of the perfect cup of coffee.

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