Photo taken from PCSD's Facebook page.

The Palawan Council for Sustainable Development Staff (PCSDS), in partnership with the Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS), has trained its personnel on the use of ReefScan and ReefCloud for the monitoring and conservation efforts in the province this August 29 to September 7 at Best Western Plus The Ivywall Hotel.

The ReefScan is part of an automated marine monitoring system that uses machine learning and advanced imaging sensors to survey underwater data. One of the machines include a robot with three cameras aimed at different angles, able to dive underwater and take accurate videos of the underwater landscape. These videos are then uploaded to the ReefCloud server, along with field data and notes gleaned from the sensors.

Jovic Fabello, spokesperson of the PCSD, noted that the technology is an upgrade from the usual monitoring strategy used since PCSD’s inception, the manta tow. The name comes from the similarity of the instrument to the manta ray, as it involved a snorkel diver perched on rectangular glass being towed at a constant speed as they take notes underwater.

“Ang ginagawa natin, sumasakay yung tao sa parang salamin, hihilain ito ng bangka na may tali. Sisilip siya doon habang nakalubog, doon siya magbibilang kung ilan yung corals, yung sea grass,” Fabello said.

Fabello noted that the main problems concerning this method was due to human error- if the diver had missed any coral cluster or forgot to note patches of sea grass, the data could not be easily reviewed or rechecked. He cited his own time using the manta tow in Calauit Island, and said that it was fatiguing to use, and that divers would be mistaken for other underwater wildlife due to the shape of the instrument.

AIMS’ ReefScan technology would give more accurate readings of coastal and marine sites without compromising human life and resources due to its remote-controlled operations and videos. This technology was part of a memorandum of agreement signed between the PCSDS and AIMS, funded by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) of Australia. AIMS would give the technology and training for PCSDS, in exchange for sharing the marine data taken from the sites.

Fabello noted that the technology would be crucial in mapping out the Environmental Critical Areas Network (ECAN) zones in the waters of Palawan, which are notoriously difficult to cover.

“Kasi ngayon ang may ECAN zones pa lang ay ang ating terrestrial components. May mga ilang munisipyo na mayroon nang marine and coastal ECAN maps pero halos karamihan wala pa,” Fabello said.

The participants present during the training for the technology were members of the PCSDS, DENR-PENRO, DENR-CENRO-Taytay, Snake Island-National Center on Marine and Coastal Research (SI-NCMCR), Protected Area Management Office-El Nido-Taytay Resource Managed Protected Area, Provincial Government-ENRO, City Agriculture Office, Western Philippines University, World Wildlife Fund Palawan, and LGU-Kalayaan.