Reviving The Earth: Dendra Systems' Journey In Transforming Ecosystem Restoration Confronting a daunting challenge, Dendra has set its sights on rejuvenating two billion hectares of degraded land that scars our planet.

By Nazmia Nassereddine

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Dendra

Our planet is at a critical juncture, facing an ecological emergency of unprecedented proportions. Each year (and for the past 20 years), more than two million acres of forest are lost due to rampant deforestation, driven by relentless industrialization, agriculture, and logging.

This is directly eroding global biodiversity destabilizing the environmental equilibrium, and intensifying the dire effects of climate change. For example, in the most comprehensive index to date, tracking the health of nature over 50 years, the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) and the Zoological Society of London's (ZSL) Institute of Zoology found an average 69% decline in wildlife populations around the world between 1970 and 2018.

Concurrently, we observe a disturbing trend where natural resources are depleted far more rapidly than they can regenerate. Human activities have led to widespread degradation of habitats, resulting in a loss of biodiversity, soil erosion, and diminished carbon sequestration capabilities. This escalating imbalance poses a significant threat to our planet's environmental stability. Traditional methods of ecosystem restoration, often slow and labor-intensive, are proving inadequate in addressing the diverse needs of our varied environments. In the face of this urgent crisis, there is a critical call for innovative and effective approaches to restoring our planet's ecosystems.

It is thus in response to the worldwide imbalance in ecosystem restoration that Dendra Systems was founded in 2014, driven by a bold and ambitious mission at its core: to facilitate ecosystem restoration on a global scale. Stewart Emerson, Marketing Director at Dendra Systems, says, "Our focus is squarely on restoration, not just conservation. We are deeply committed to revitalizing biodiverse ecosystems, moving beyond the limited scope of monocultures and plantations."

Stewart Emerson, Marketing Director, Dendra Systems. Source: Dendra Systems

Dendra is not just a company; it's a movement dedicated to empowering those at the forefront of landscape restoration with the tools they need to make a tangible impact. Confronting a daunting challenge, Dendra has set its sights on rejuvenating two billion hectares of degraded land that scars our planet. Its approach is far from conventional, as Dendra Systems aims to focus on restoration rather than just conservation, breathing new life into diverse, biodiverse ecosystems, rather than settling for the simplicity of monocultures and plantations.

At the core of Dendra's groundbreaking work is RestorationOS, an innovative restoration operating system. This unique technology is the embodiment of its vision, combining ecological best practices with the power of satellite and drone survey data, advanced machine learning, and aerial drone-based seeding. This fusion of technology and ecology enables Dendra to undertake restoration projects on an unprecedented scale– from tens of thousands, to eventually millions of hectares.

But Dendra's vision goes beyond mere numbers. The company is committed to restoring the intricate tapestry of biodiverse ecosystems, understanding that this is key to combating the twin challenges of climate change and biodiversity loss. By equipping environmental managers worldwide with RestorationOS, Dendra is not just changing landscapes; it is helping to reshape the future of our planet, addressing two of the most pressing environmental challenges of our time.

Dendra's use of drones represents a significant advancement in restoration efforts. With the capability to distribute 1.5 tons of seeds daily, these drones have revolutionized the scale at which restoration can occur. However, automated planting only represents 10% of the challenge, according to Matthew Ritchie, CFO at Dendra Systems. The most important aspect is the data and the insights that are generated, and then used to support better decision-making, which ultimately leads to better restoration outcomes.

Matthew Ritchie, CFO, Dendra Systems. Source: Dendra Systems

Dendra's journey began in Australia in 2017, which was a mature market with the right regulations- a strong restoration market, chalk full of experienced environmental managers. The company quickly established itself as a key player in the Australian restoration market, growing its client base to 31 mine site customers. Following 2020, Dendra Systems witnessed remarkable growth, broadening its project reach from 100 hectares to a staggering 20,000 hectares. Concurrently, the company developed the largest repository of environmental imagery, enabling ultra-high-resolution visualization of ecosystems at a scale never seen before. "We quantify the status of ecosystems, the risks and restoration progress by combining remote sensing, ecology, and computer vision," adds Emerson.

Related: Delivering Happiness (Sustainably): How Amazon Is Smashing Its Net-Zero Goals With Cutting-Edge Technology

Central to RestorationOS is the concept that ecosystem restoration is an ongoing cycle, which encompasses the regular collection, analysis, and interpretation of data, and subsequent action. This process, conducted annually, allows for the monitoring of ecosystem health over time, ensuring accurate assessments and adjustments based on observed trends. This continuous, data-driven approach is fundamental to Dendra's methodology in ecosystem restoration.

Dendra Systems places great emphasis on local partnerships to achieve scalable restoration, understanding that these collaborations are essential for tailoring its solutions to the unique needs of specific ecosystems. A prime example of this approach is its recent partnership with the Environment Agency – Abu Dhabi (EAD) under the Abu Dhabi Mangrove Initiative (ADMI).

Dendra Systems' project in Abu Dhabi stands as a groundbreaking endeavor in the realm of environmental restoration, showcasing its innovative approach and the vital importance of mangrove ecosystems. Mangroves are known as one of the most efficient ecosystems for removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Their unique growth methods and function allow them to store significant amounts of organic carbon in both their biomass and the surrounding soil, sequestering up to four times more carbon per hectare than other terrestrial ecosystems, including tropical rainforests.

The initiative involved analyzing over 150,000 hectares of coastal area with the aim of restoring mangrove forests. Detailed analysis was conducted on 20,000 hectares, identifying 165 ideal restoration sites in the first year. These sites were then planted with mangroves using custom drones at a rate of 100,000 trees per day. This project not only emphasizes the ecological significance of mangroves in sequestering blue carbon, but also highlights their economic potential, with the blue carbon stored in mangrove ecosystems estimated to be valued at between US$1,000 and $9,000 per hectare per year. The process of mangrove restoration, however, is complex and challenging. It involves careful management of various factors throughout the restoration cycle, such as site selection, cost, knowledge of mangrove ecology, and long-term monitoring and maintenance.

Source: Dendra Systems

But Dendra's holistic approach is designed to reliably restore and protect these vital ecosystems for future generations, with it aiming to plan one million mangroves over the next five years. ADMI's broader initiative is to plant 100 million mangroves by 2030, says Ahmed Al Hashmi, Executive Director of Terrestrial and Marine Biodiversity Sector at EAD. Looking forward, Dendra Systems aims to scale its restoration efforts to unprecedented levels. With plans to restore 1.3 million hectares in five years and 10 million hectares in a decade, Dendra needs the means to scale. It has raised a total of $27.1 million to date from various investors including VentureSouq, which focuses on startups that demonstrate strong commercial growth prospects alongside measurable positive environmental outcomes.

As a keen investor in ClimateTech, VentureSouq was drawn to Dendra Systems in 2018, motivated by its mission-driven approach and innovative solutions in ecosystem restoration.

VentureSouq's involvement goes beyond financial backing. VentureSouq actively supports Dendra Systems' scaling and market expansion efforts, leveraging its network to facilitate introductions and partnerships, notably in the environmental conservation space in the UAE and GCC region. This strategic support has been instrumental in Dendra's recent partnership with EAD and ADQ. Its last funding round in October 2023 -and an upcoming one in 2024- will help Dendra consolidate its growth in Australia and UAE, while allocating a significant amount to its scaling initiatives across data capture, machine learnine, and project size, from 10,000 acres to 100,000 acres.

"40% of global gross domestic product (GDP) relies on Natural Capital (Environment)," says Ritchie. "If you start to degrade natural landscapes, then we're going to undermine economic productivity." As such, in a world where 40% of global GDP is intricately linked to natural capital, the degradation of natural landscapes poses not only an environmental threat, but a significant economic peril. Dendra Systems, in recognizing this critical interdependence, has positioned itself as more than just a pioneer in technological innovation for ecosystem restoration. Its mission is a clarion call to action, highlighting the urgent need to preserve and restore our natural environments for the sake of both ecological and economic stability.

By leading the way in combining technological prowess with ecological wisdom, Dendra Systems is not only fighting against ecosystem degradation, but also championing a cause that underpins the very foundation of global economic productivity.

Explore how impact investing aligns capital with positive societal and environmental outcomes- check out our special report on impact investing here.

This article was originally published on Lucidity Insights, a partner of Entrepreneur Middle East in developing special reports on the Middle East and Africa's tech and entrepreneurial ecosystems.

Related: Analyzing The Impact On -And What's Next For- The Middle East After The UAE's Momentous Staging Of COP28

Nazmia Nassereddine is a young writer passionate about making complex data and research more approachable, understandable, and entertaining.

Nazmia has always been an educator at heart, taking on mentorship roles teaching creative and business writing to the scientific community. She is currently pursuing her passion at the intersection of technology and healthcare through a master’s degree in biomedical engineering. When she’s not in the lab pouring herself into the magic of tissue engineering and reconstruction, she’s writing and educating the world about all things biotech, healthtech, insurtech, and edutech.

Nazmia holds a B.S. in biology and is currently pursuing her M.S. in biomedical engineering at the American University of Beirut. She specializes in cartilage tissue research, and uses her writing as a therapeutic escape to produce captivating pieces that take her readers on a journey with every word.

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