Innovative AIMS-developed coral reef monitoring technology is being adopted in the Philippines.
AIMS scientists and technologists introduced coral reef monitoring professionals from the island province of Palawan to the technologies, to provide real-time information about coral reef condition.
This information will inform local reef management in the face of increasing climate change impacts and local pressures.
Philippine partners were trained to use ReefCloud, a digital platform with artificial intelligence (AI) that analyses underwater images of a coral reef to rapidly extract data about its condition and provide comprehensive, standardised, and easy-to-understand reports.
AIMS Marine Technology Innovation and Development leader Scott Bainbridge said it was the first time ReefScan Transom would be used outside Australia for autonomous coral reef monitoring.
“In Australia, Traditional Owners, tourism operators and the Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service are using ReefScan to capture and share reef data,” he said.
“It’s exciting to be introducing international users to ReefScan.
“We needed to make some adjustments to the ReefScan Transom to suit the local boats and to train the machine learning to recognise the unique features of the local environment such as adjusting for water clarity and silty sea floors, and introducing some of the seagrasses that we don’t have in Australia.”
A ReefScan Transom unit along with other monitoring equipment was gifted to the Palawan Council for Sustainable Development with a second one to be delivered next year.
AIMS Research Team leader and ReefCloud Director Dr Manuel Gonzalez Rivero said Australia had a longstanding connection with the Philippines, with both nations founding members of the International Coral Reef Initiative.
“After the recent typhoon had passed, we visited a typical coastal reef system for our field work,” he said.
“We observed that the system was still recovering from the impact of the 2016 mass bleaching event with low coral cover, but we were excited to find some rare coral genera.
“Currently, coral reef data in the Philippines is held in separate local, provincial and national data sets. ReefCloud will be a good platform to bring these datasets together to provide a more comprehensive picture of the state of the reef, to inform sustainable management practices.”
Palawan Council for Sustainable Development Operations Director Levita Lagrada said using ReefScan and ReefCloud would step up the organisation’s reef monitoring activities.
“Information can be provided at the earliest time possible compared to our traditional method of coral reef monitoring,” she said.
“This is necessary for policy and decision-making to manage marine resources, towards attaining sustainable development.”
Climate change is accelerating its impacts on ecosystems and livelihoods across the globe and is widely recognised as the greatest threat to coral reefs worldwide. Increasingly frequent and severe coral bleaching events are outpacing corals’ ability to regenerate and adapt to warmer temperatures.
The initiative is supported by the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.