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,” according to Chris Poonian at 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 trialing 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 a simple app developed by SEN. 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, etc, 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 SEN, which provides a platform for conservationists and technologists to share ideas, network and develop innovative solutions, believes the idea is a simple but effective one: “New mobile technology and particularly Internet of Things is helping to take the expense and legwork out of conservation, especially in the more remote parts of the world. 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.”