In March 2021, BFAR warned people not to eat shellfish from the Inner Malampaya Sound in Taytay town, which is in the northern part of Palawan.

It is now possible to monitor harmful algal blooms (HABs) or red tide in the country in real-time through a robot technology known as Imaging FlowCytobot (IFCB), a technology that will be deployed in vulnerable sites, including the waters of Puerto Princesa.

HABs are blooms of harmful algae that can cause health problems for humans.

The HABs Watch Project program was launched in Palawan by the University of the Philippines-Marine Science Institute (UP-MSI) in collaboration with 11 state universities in the country, including Palawan State University (PSU) and Western Philippines University (WPU). It also works with the University of California, Santa Cruz.

Dr. Deo Florence Onda, HABs Watch Project Leader and Associate Professor/Deputy Director for Research at UP-MSI, stated on Monday that the threat of HAB is one of the problems in food security.

Dr. Deo Florence Onda, HABs Watch Project Leader and Associate Professor/Deputy Director for Research at UP-MSI, explains the project’s importance to public welfare.

HABs are becoming more common as a result of increased pollution in areas where fertilizers are dumped into bodies of water. This scenario favors the reproduction of organisms capable of producing toxins.

“Ang problema, itong mga organismong ito ay maliliit tulad ng phytoplankton. Dahil maliliit sila, sila ‘yong kinakain ng talaba, mussel. Dahil kinakain, nagko-concentrate ‘yong toxin at ito ‘yong kinakain ng mga kababayan natin,” he said.

Aside from posing a threat to human consumption, the expansion of HABs may also result in the death of fish due to biomass. The decay of biomass consumes oxygen in competition with fish, resulting in their death.

The P157.2 million project is funded by the Commission on Higher Education (CHED) through its Leading the Advancement of Knowledge in Agriculture and Sciences (LAKAS) program and will run until 2024. According to Onda, the project is the largest consortium funded by the program in the country.

HABs watch program
Onda said the program promotes a proactive approach to predicting the presence of HABs rather than only acting when populations are identified. The traditional method of testing is to dispatch experts to collect samples for laboratory testing before determining the outcome.

“Dahil masyadong magastos sa oras, eksperto at sa resources ‘yong gamit natin ngayonna pupunta ka, papadala mo sa laboratoryo. Kailangan nstin mag-adapt ng mga teknolohiya na nasa ibang bansa para maging mapabilis, episyente,” he said.

He said the IFCB is a California-adapted technology that can be deployed in areas where HABs are common and stored in a floating laboratory, and each costs Php13 million.

“Ang gusto natin ay magamit ‘yong basic research at magamit siya sa issng applied research para makagawa tayo ng real time monitoring platform para real time din tayo nakakapagbigay ng impormasyon sa publiko at gobyerno,” he said

Onda is also excited about the prospect of translating the findings of the project into policy that can be implemented by government agencies for the purpose of facilitating the sustainable adoption of technology.

Since the Philippines is an archipelago, many of its regions already have HABs, which call for more scientists and experts, he said further.

He also stated that the project aims to build capacity, expertise, decentralize technology, and transfer it to the government for the benefit of the public.

Onda also emphasized that the project aims to produce more data by increasing the number of scientists, changing misconceptions about science, and ensuring the project’s continuity, and increasing public engagement.

How IFCB works
The IFCB will collect a water sample and process it in order to photograph the HAB species present in the area. As it connects to the internet or a satellite, it will provide a real-time photo directly in a database on the server.

Once the photo is sent to the server, it will be aided by machine learning assisted identification, also known as artificial intelligence (AI).

“Kapag na-identify nila ang mga sinabi natin na pwedeng HABs species, iti-text nila tayo. Sasabihin sa atin ng robot na meron na kaming na-detect na Pyrodinium o Alexandrium na ganito siya karami sa oras na ‘yon. Tapos gagawin niya uli ‘yon pagkatapos ng isang oras,” he said.

The program has acquired three IFCBs, which are expected to arrive next year and will be deployed in Pangasinan, Palawan, and Mindanao as pilot testing areas. The IFCB in Palawan will be based in Puerto Princesa Bay.

HABs situation in Palawan
Dr. Jhonamie Abiner Mabuhay-Omar, WPU Project Collaborator, said HABs are a recurring problem in Palawan that began in 1998, with the first incident reported in Malampaya Sound. It recorded 54 victims, one of whom died.

She added that the first report of red tide in the city of Puerto Princesa was in 2013 at Honda Bay and in 2017 at Puerto Princesa Bay, citing data from the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR).

As of now, the presence has been detected in Malampaya Sound, El Nido, Honda Bay, Puerto Princesa Bay, and the city’s west coast.

“Talagang sobrang bigat at sakit ito doon sa very much dependent, economically on this aspect,” she said.

The academic institutions are eager to increase the number of studies that are HAB-focused. In their research, the PSU also discovered four species of toxic phytoplankton in the Puerto Princesa and Honda Bays.

Once the HABs are identified in the area, they will never be eradicated and will only be triggered. The factors that may trigger are still being researched, but pollution and climate change have been observed, she added.

Onda said that red tide alerts haven’t been sent out in Palawan and Puerto Princesa for about two years, but no one knows when they will start up again.

“The HABs ay very dependent sa environment, ang hirap i-predict kaya hanggang ngayon hindi natin masasabi kung magkakaroon ng HABs—may ibang factors na pinag-aaralan namin na hanggang ngayon ay pag-aaral pa rin siya. Hangga’t hindi pa natin napi-predict, ang approach natin kailangan may mata tayo sa tubig na tumitingin sa presence nila,” Omar said.

About Post Author

Previous articlePPCPO pinag-iingat ang mga motorista dahil madulas ang kalsada
Next articleChina denies forcibly taking away rocket debris from Philippine Navy tugboat
is one of the senior reporters of Palawan News. She covers agriculture, business, and different feature stories. Her interests are collecting empty bottles, aesthetic earrings, and anything that is color yellow.