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Philippines at the forefront of biodiversity conservation using IoT

biodiversity iot

Technology optimists say the Internet of Things can help save the world,  yet skeptics take it as something that feeds greed and idleness. Even Albert Einstein was somewhat fearful of the great leaps in technology that human beings were able to achieve, sensing that it will soon overlap people’s humanity. Indeed, when everything is said and done, humanity is the only thing the world can truly hold on to.

This is why having humane ideals and purpose in the use of IoT should be lauded, replicated and scaled up – all the time and in all conditions. Just as it is useful for business, economy and in our day-to-day lives, IoT is now edging its way to the noblest purpose of all – conserving life on Earth and saving what is left of it.

Poor Countries Take Lead

Effects of climate change

The alarm has been sounded many years ago: the planet is on the brink of death. This is claimed by 97% of the world’s scientists. Sadly, governments in advanced countries like the United States, the biggest emitter of poisonous carbon dioxide, seem to be making a step backwards in conservation efforts. This forced scientists of the world to march for the first time in history during the March for Science last April 22 amid threats by the administration of Donald Trump to make huge cuts on the budget for environmental research.

Ironically, the poor countries are the ones consistently rising up to the challenge of adapting to and mitigating climate change, leading eco-friendly lifestyles and achieving sustainable development. In the Ministerial Meeting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) held on April 27, 2017 in Manila, environmental conservation was high on the agenda. It is something to be proud of when the people who are least bestowed with wealth and comfort are the ones exerting all efforts to use technology for the most humane purpose – to save another species.

The Philippines is one of the countries in the world most vulnerable to the effects of climate change, and yet it is also among the list of countries that contribute to carbon emissions the least at .3 %. Still, it has taken major leaps in environmental conservation. Initiatives have been made, and are fairly successful, in using technology to protect wildlife and conserve what is left of the country’s rich biodiversity. For example, the LAWIN Forest and Biodiversity Protection System, a project between the Department of Environment and Natural Resources and the USAID, uses IoT platforms to track endangered flora and fauna in the forests of Sierra Madre range. According to its implementers, LAWIN “allows for the visualization of the spatial distribution of observation records…and show the effectiveness of intervention” thus allowing enforcers to improve their forest conservation strategies.

LAWIN Forest and Biodiversity protection system of DENR uses IoT to monitor status of Philippine forests.

Protecting Marine Biodiversity

Biodiversity conservation should be a shared responsibility that transcends all divides – social class, belief, ethnicity, gender. The reason, of course, is obvious: all of us are innately connected to every living form, because all of nature is interconnected. Biodiversity is what you may call the natural internet of things.

In the Philippines, the work of protecting marine biodiversity is shared among scientists, environmental advocates and fisherfolk. Teams of Bantay Dagat (sea guards) are deployed to seas to monitor illegal fishing activities and make sure marine protected areas and marine sanctuaries are not encroached.

One laudable project in which the IoT is being fully used is the “citizen science” conservation project of the Smart Earth Network (SEN) and Community Centered Conservation (C3). Under the project, local fisher folk use Android apps to monitor the “dugong” or the sea cow, a rare marine mammal found in certain parts of the Pacific ocean. The dugong that are often sighted in Philippine waters are a highly protected species, having been listed as vulnerable to extinction and protected by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species.

Dugong (Sea Cow)

With the help of Kii as IoT cloud provider and Cherry Mobile, a local cellphone company that donated smart phones, the fisher folk learned how to use the phone to take a photo of the Dugong once they are sighted and then tag the location via GPS. This allows C3 to determine the population of the sea animal within a certain area and share this data to conservationists around the world.

Digital experts agree that IoT platforms have been very useful and efficient in collecting, transmitting, storing and sharing data about everything in the world. The challenge, however, is how to collect data. In the case of collecting information about the Dugong, the fisherman was the key. The role of the fisher folk in tracking the presence and mobility of the Dugong are crucial since they’ve become the eyes and ears of scientists out in the sea while they do their daily livelihood. Tapping them to help also lowered the cost of tracking the Dugong which before, had been very expensive because scientists needed to monitor from the air using satellite images and drones.


What SEN and C3 proved in this project is that collaboration for conservation truly works. In the case of the protecting the remaining Dugongs in the Philippine seas, it is imperative to involve local communities. Information of sightings and even behavioral patterns are inputted and transmitted to scientists who are then able to analyze the location and direction of the Dugong and map out their movement pattern. These are important data that will allow enforcers, such as the Bantay Dagat, to make sure the areas where the Dugongs frequent are conserved and protected.

Conservationists believe that IoT technology will allow them accomplish a lot in protecting endangered species but that this effort should be extended to the locals, the people who are out there in the wild on a daily basis. Teaching the fisher men to use IoT technology and involving them in the actual implementation of the project, and finally, letting them appreciate the results, are expected to lead to remarkable achievement in protecting the remaining Dugongs of the Philippines.

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