How to Become a Digital Humanitarian in the Philippines

Be a Digital Humanitarian on this Expedition: The Expedition will start on Friday, December 5th at 12pm London time (GMT) and will run until 8pm Sunday, December 7th. (End time variable). Steps to get started: 1. Send an email to email to MicroMappers+subscribe@googlegroups.com or join the MicroMappers email list-serve here. 2. Check your email on December 5th. We’ll send you an invite email at 12pm GMT (London time) with details and the link that you’ll need to volunteer. This link will first lead you to a tutorial which will include a short video on how to use MicroMappers. 

Becoming a Digital Humanitarian is very simple to do and requires no prior experience. See you online!


“Coconut trees rarely lose battles with even the biggest typhoons, cyclones or hurricanes, thanks to millions of years of evolution. Their flexible, skinny trunks cut through winds and even tsunami waves. Their bushy tops catch sun and deflect wind. Their seeds—coconuts—
are unsinkable vessels that ride storm winds to colonize new shores.” - WSJ

Alas, millions of coconut trees in the Philippines did not win the battle against Typhoon Haiyan last year. According to the United Nations, the Typhoon destroyed a staggering 33 million (!) coconut trees. The Philippines is (was) one of the world’s largest producers of coconuts but the coconut industry in some regions of the country could take up to a decade to recover. And as noted in the media, “The typhoon was a devastating setback for many coconut farmers, mostly sharecroppers who make as little as $1 to $2 a day.”

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To make matters worse, the coconut trees uprooted by the Typhoon have rotted, which in some regions has resulted in an infestation of the Coconut Rhinoceros Beetle that “feeds on the palm shoot or palm heart and kills the young palms. So another disaster is in the making. And this is where we come in as Digital Humanitarians.

Our Filipino partners at the SkyEye Project recently have used their UAVs (remote control planes) to take thousands of aerial photographs of the affected areas. Our mission is to identify some of the healthy coconut trees and all of the uprooted, destroyed trees. More specifically, our mission is trace all the directly visible trunks of coconut trees that can be seen in each aerial photograph.

To do this, we’ll use the MicroMappers “Aerial Clicker” which looks like this:

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We’ll use the “Blue Tree” icon on MicroMappers to trace a line along the trunks of coconut trees that are still healthy (they are more or less upright and still have all or most of their fronds/leaves). If you can’t see the trunk, then no need to trace any line. See the examples below.

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Please don’t worry if you don’t see the trunks of some (or most) of the healthy coconut trees. We’re only focusing on tracing visible trunks.

We’ll use the “Red Tree” icon to trace a line along the trunks of coconut trees that have been uprooted. We’ll also trace the trunks of coconut trees that are still standing but which have no more fronds/leaves attached. Some of examples of these below.

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Again, be sure to only trace the clearly visible trunks of coconut trees. All of the black traces below are actually incorrect. Can you tell why?

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MM P2

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For both the Blue and Red line traces, we’ll need to trace from the root of the tree to the top part of the tree (always in this direction). This explains why you see arrows in the above examples.

The results of our digital humanitarian efforts will be used by SkyEye and their humanitarian partners to prioritize and accelerate their response to the growing food security problem in the Philippines.

To volunteer, simply send a blank email to MicroMappers+subscribe@googlegroups.com or join the MicroMappers list-serve here. The Digital Humanitarian Expedition to the Philippines will start on Friday, December 5th at 12pm London time (GMT) and will run until 8pm Sunday, December 7th (end time is variable). So check your emails on December 5th; we’ll send out an email at 12pm with the link you’ll need to volunteer. This link will first lead you to a tutorial which will include a short video on how to use MicroMappers to trace the trees. This is very simple to do, which means no prior experience is necessary.

In the meantime, we need all the help we can get to spread the word! So please let others know about this humanitarian project, share this post with your friends, families, neighbors, etc, and also post this to your social media pages.

Sample Tweet:

Be a Digital Humanitarian – join the Philippines Expedition on December 5- 7. Details: http://bit.ly/11YgBcg  All welcome!

Sample Facebook post:

Be a Digital Humanitarian – join the Philippines Expedition on December 5- 7. Details: http://bit.ly/11YgBcg All welcome!

Our next blog post will be a “Coconut Tree Primer” to help you learn more about these amazing trees and why they’re so important. Plus, we’ll share more about what will happen with the MicroMapping data you create during our expedition next week.

Thanks for reading, and thanks for caring!

Your MicroMappers Team,

Patrick, Ji, Heather, Justine & Peter