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IoT helps keep track of endangered dugongs in Philippines

Steve Rogerson
February 10, 2016

IoT technology is being used to monitor the endangered dugong (sea mammals) population in the Philippines. Local fishermen can record the location, time and date of sightings using a specially developed app and a smartphone.
The app uses geo-positioning and requires the fishermen to take a picture of the dugong. Data are then uploaded to a database, allowing a precise picture of the population to be built up, including the track of the boat to identify dugong-free areas of sea, which in turn allows more targeted conservation activities to be put into practice.
The development was carried out through UK-based Smart Earth Network’s community of technicians and innovators and partner Kii, a Tokyo-based IoT cloud platform provider. The companies worked on the citizen science conservation project with local fishermen in the Philippines to help monitor and track the dugong population in the region. C3 (Community Centred Conservation) managed the project and Kii provided the cloud platform where fisherman, armed with smartphones, can upload geo-located images of the sea mammals via an Android app.
Known as sea cows, dugongs are marine mammals that live in the oceans around East Africa to the western Pacific, but are now listed by the World Conservation Union (IUCN) as a species vulnerable to extinction. While legally protected, dugongs face many dangers, largely from local fishing, destruction of habitat and illegal hunting.
“Traditionally, we have had to track these amazing sea creatures from the air, which is expensive and not entirely reliable,” said Chris Poonian from C3, a non-profit organisation. “Using smartphones to monitor endangered species is an innovative and novel approach. This collaborative project is one of the first initiatives of its kind to employ smartphone technology. If successful, these approaches could have important applications for surveys of rare species throughout the world.
“Citizen science is a growing field to monitor endangered species with limited resources. The smartphone app we are developing and trialling could potentially be used to monitor any species anywhere in the world, and generate useful scientific data from non-specialist observers. It also means we can engage with the local community and involve the fishermen who are the ones out at sea and closest to the dugongs, which is very rewarding.”
Around 30 fishermen have already been handed basic smartphones, supplied by local mobile provider Cherry Mobile as part of a trial in the Busuanga region of the country. Once out at sea, the fishermen photograph any dugongs they spot and then upload the images when they are back on land to a central database hosted on the Kii cloud using an app developed by Smart Earth Networks. The fishermen, many of whom are unable to read or write, are being trained on how to use the smartphones and provided with local charging facilities.
Each image will indicate the location of each dugong via GPS, allowing C3 to map the sightings and get a clear idea of the population in the area, timings of sightings, migration patterns and so on, and will enable the team to put together recommendations for future protection areas. The plan is to share the data with other conservationists worldwide, and also with the local Council of Development to help C3 lobby the local government.
Simon Hodgkinson, founder of Smart Earth Networks (SEN), which provides a platform for conservationists and technologists to share ideas, network and innovate, believes the idea is a simple but effective one:
“New mobile technology and particularly the internet of things is helping to take the expense and legwork out of conservation, especially in the more remote parts of the world,” he said. “While this project is in its infancy, the feedback from the local community has been very positive and we are already seeing early results from the data.”
Masanari Arai, founder and CEO of Kii, added: “So often we’re used to seeing our technology delivering benefits for business, but now we’re involved in a truly rewarding conservation project that will deliver benefits for an endangered species. Our relationship with SEN has developed quickly since we met last year, and we’re pleased to be able to support them and collaborate with partners C3 and Cherry Mobile over in the Philippines.”
Dugongs (Dugong dugon) are vegetarian sea mammals found in warm coastal waters from East Africa to Australia, including the Red Sea, Indian Ocean and Pacific. They are related to manatees and similar in appearance and behaviour. Both are related to the elephant.
Dugongs have been targeted for hunters for their meat, oil, skin, bones and teeth in the past. They are now legally protected, but are classified on the IUCN’s Red List of Threatened Species as vulnerable. Figures suggest its population has declined by 30 per cent in the past six decades, due to entanglement in nets, including those used in Mariculture (seaweed farms), and illegal hunting.
Busuanga is the largest island in the Calamian group in the province of Palawan in the Philippines.
SEN provides a platform for conservationists and technologists to share ideas, network and innovate for practical challenges on the ground. It is a social enterprise with members working in practical conservation and technology, from universities, government, NGOs, private sector and concerned citizens.
C3 was established in 2002 by an international group of marine environmental consultants in Palau. It is a non-profit organisation with a grassroots approach and active members of the IUCN. C3 focuses on small-scale capacity building, scientific research and environmental education projects that lead to direct benefits for local communities through the sustainable use of their natural environment.
By providing opportunities for local people to develop and participate in these projects, it helps ensure the long-term sustainability of its work. To reduce overheads, all of C3’s staff are resident in project countries, working closely with local collaborating organisations and governments.