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Some time in our planet’s near future, machines will take over, leaving humans surviving in poor living conditions - at least that’s what science fiction is trying to make us believe. But far from the derelict state of the projected post-apocalyptic world, the town of Sasmuan in Pampanga remains to be idyllic and serene, even after the arrival of a machine that promises to watch over an entire mangrove forest.
Sasmuan is one of the coastal towns that surround Manila Bay, so it’s just natural that for generations, fishing has been its residents' main source of livelihood. The town’s location and geographic features have also made the place an ideal refuge for more than 50 species of migratory birds. These are just some of the reasons why the local government is trying very hard to protect the mangrove areas which, just like other mangrove forests in different parts of the world, are facing threats brought about by climate change.
“The communities have been reforesting the mangrove areas, but the (seedlings’) survival rate hasn’t been that high,” said Sasmuan Mayor Nardo Velasco. “But now, with these sensors, the survival rate may double. That’s why we are thankful for this project.”
Velasco is talking about the sensors installed in their locality through the Connected Mangroves project led by ICT solutions provider Ericsson and connectivity partner Smart Communications. Devices have been installed within the Sasmuan Bangkung Malapad Critical Habitat Ecotourism Area, to regularly gather and transmit data. These information will be necessary to help ensure survival and protection of the mangroves growing in what the Biodiversity Management Bureau declared as one of Manila Bay's few remaining sources of oxygen.
The solar-powered sensors collect data such as the soil's moisture, temperature and electrical conductivity . These also measure factors and conditions such as water level and salinity, ambient temperature and humidity, and even rainfall volume. Through the machine’s internet connectivity, real-time information can be instantly uploaded to the cloud for quick access by the technical working group composed of various government agencies including the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), Bureau of Fisheries (BFAR), the local disaster risk reduction and management office, Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG), and more. The machine also comes with a camera that regularly captures and sends images from the site.
Information obtained from the site can then be analyzed and used by the group to take necessary, data-backed actions in maintaining ideal balance in the area - not only helping up the survival rate of mangroves, but also in protecting and preserving the locality’s aquaculture industry, and more importantly, in providing disaster warnings to the community.
The benefits go beyond environmental, said Jayson Salenga, Samuan Municipal Tourism Officer. Because the area is a protected eco-tourism site, there are also economic gains that the LGU can reap from looking after this mangrove forest.
With this deeper understanding, the residents of Sasmuan have been very much involved and supportive of this project. Some of the residents have been tapped and trained to help in the sensors’ operation and maintenance. Community leaders are now encouraged to study and use data from the online dashboard accessible through mobile devices.
The Connected Mangroves project is the first of its kind in the Philippines, but it has already been piloted in Malaysia where they saw mangroves’ survival rate double after the monitoring activities. The Sasmuan community is positive they can achieve the same, if not, greater results.
“When we protect the mangroves, we protect the habitat of our community’s aquatic products,” said Velasco. “The mangroves also shield our coastal barangays from calamities. That is why this project is very important to us.”
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