Dr Smitha Hegde, an expert in the study of ferns, has documented more than one thousand trees with her students so far.

How a Mangaluru professor is using geo-tagging QR codes to help save trees from the axe
news Environment Saturday, April 27, 2019 - 17:06

A Mangaluru professor and her students are working towards documenting the trees and plants in the area in an effort to save the city’s greenery. The team, led by Dr Smitha Hegde, a scientist who studies ferns and a professor at the Nitte University Centre for Science Education and Research (NUCSER), has worked to geo-tag more than a thousand trees.

From June 2018 to February 2019, Smitha and students who volunteered for the project, have been geo-tagging more than 1,200 trees, plus over 700 medicinal plants.

“If you walk on the streets of Hampankatta or Falnir, you’ll notice very few trees. Most of the trees have been felled for road widening projects,” said Smitha.

Plant saplings were not planned for either, she said, but planted randomly on either side of the road, only to be cut down to accommodate further road works. “Our town planners need to have a proper plan in place before carrying out saplings drive. It does not hold any good if you plant a sapling today and tomorrow you axe it for civic projects,” said Smitha.

In February this year, Smitha launched the second phase of the project -- developing QR codes for the trees. The process is ongoing and more than 100 trees that have been geo-tagged have also been bar-coded so far. The students have documented important information about the trees -- its botanical name, the common name, its origin and its benefits.

A well-regarded expert in her field, Smitha has been awarded the Professor SS Bir gold medal in Pteridology for her scientific work towards the advancement of science in the area of ferns. She has extensively worked on ferns of the Western Ghats region, particularly the Kudremukh National Park region. Besides, she has also undertaken a project on DNA fingerprinting of ferns of the region.

Through her efforts, Smitha wants her students and others to be aware of the carbon released into the atmosphere. “Such projects sensitise them as they are directly involved with the plants and they maintain a bond while documenting them,” she said.

And QR codes will help people immediately get to know each tree. “It is something like when you meet a person for the first time, you would ask his/her name. Isn’t that a way to build a bond?” asks Smitha. She now plans to have students from other institutions of the campus join the project.

The novel initiative was launched to commemorate the International Day of Forest. The United Nations had declared this year’s International Day of Forests theme to be 'Forests and Education – Learn to Love the Forests.'

Smitha has worked relentlessly on the conservation of trees. Earlier, she had earlier audited 1,904 trees on the campus besides geo-tagging them on the Google Earth. In a span of one year, she had also audited the plants and geo-tagged them at her former employer's campus at St Aloysius College.

"The tree auditing has immensely helped in assessing the total carbon emission at Aloysius campus. Through the process, the amount of carbon corrected by a tree was calculated and compared it to the amount of carbon released by human beings. If the score was equal, the carbon emission would be null," she said.

In due course, Smitha says she wants the policymakers to take cognisance of the importance and role of the tree and further intends to roll out a similar drive to conserve tree in the public sphere.

“The need to educate the masses in this region is urgent and immediate,” she said.

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