Claire Birks of the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs handed over one of the equipment items donated by the Australian Institute for Marine Sciences to Governor Dennis Socrates during the ceremonial turnover at the Best Western Ivy Wall Hotel on Tuesday, September 12. Also present on the left were PCSDS acting executive director Niño Estoya and AIMS Manager for International Partnership Britta Schaffelke.

The Australian Institute for Marine Sciences donated on Tuesday state-of the art equipment to the Palawan Council for Sustainable Development (PCSD) for use in the monitoring, analysis and assessment of marine habitat, particularly the status of coral reefs in the province.

The donation includes the digital platform ReefCloud, a tool that uses artificial intelligence to analyze underwater images of coral reef and rapidly extracts data about its condition to provide comprehensive, standardized, and easily understandable reports.

Also turned over was a ReefScan Transom, an autonomous devise that can be attached to a boat to take underwater images without divers and transfer them to ReefCloud for analysis and data visualization, underwater camera, global positioning system, and accessories

In her message during the handover ceremony Britta Schaffelke, Manager of International Partnerships at AIMS and coordinator for Global Coral Reef Monitoring Network underscored the importance of coral reefs to every aspect of human lives.

She said coral reefs make huge impacts to the world’s economy, particularly in the Philippines where it is a major source of livelihood.

“Coral reefs might only occupy 1% of the world’s marine environment but they are home to about a quarter of the world’s marine species and they are important habitat for fish,” Schaffelke said.

“Coral reefs support marine life and industries such as fishing and tourism that underpin economic and social wellbeing, and they help protect coastlines from erosion and flooding,” she added, further stating that the 2018 estimated economic values derived from fisheries and tourism in Philippine reefs was $4 billion per year.

Schaffelke explained that the Philippines being part of the so-called coral triangle plays an important role, being at the center of biodiversity of reef-building corals.

Furthermore, she said the equipment handed over to the PCSD will make the task of monitoring and analysis of coral reefs easier and faster to be able to quickly respond to the challenges that marine biodiversity faces today – climate change.

“Ongoing ocean warming and increasingly frequent and severe marine heatwaves lead to coral bleaching events. Last major global bleaching event was the years 2015 and 2017,” she said.

“To address these challenges, AIMS scientists and collaborators have over the past few years been developing two new technologies to make coral reef monitoring easier, faster and therefore, more cost-effective and accessible,” she added.

Claire Birks from the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade acknowledged the importance of partnership between Australia and Philippines in securing marine environment to address problems such as pollution, climate change, and over-exploitation.

Aside from marine biodiversity protection, Birks said the two countries have also recently been engaging in a larger scale of maritime issues such as illegal, unreported and undocumented fishing, strengthening coast guard capabilities, and training on the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Seas, which she said “provides the foundation for peace, security and stability in our maritime domains.”

“This year, Australia was proud to have joined with others, including the Philippines, to successfully conclude negotiations for an ambitious new ocean’s treaty of biodiversity beyond national jurisdiction. And more broadly, Australia is working with ASEAN to strengthen our maritime cooperation and efforts to address climate change,” Birks explained.

“Our maritime cooperation is an important part of our new strategic partnership and we look forward to continuing to deepen or practical engagement in Palawan with PCSD and work together to address shared challenges facing our marine environment,” she added.

Governor Victorino Dennis Socrates who chairs PCSD expressed gratitude to the Australian government for the equipment which he said will be very useful in the management of coral reef ecosystem in the province.

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