PLDT-Smart to deploy drones to preserve PH peatlands

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PLDT and its wireless subsidiary Smart Communications said it will soon deploy more digital innovations to protect key biodiversity areas throughout the Philippines.

PLDT-Smart’s most recent initiative under its “Gabay Kalikasan” environmental stewardship program is for the protection of the Caimpugan Peatlands in the Agusan Marsh Wildlife Sanctuary (AMWS).

Named as a wetland of international importance by the Ramsar Convention, the area holds the only recorded remaining intact peat swamp forest — the largest of its kind — in the Philippines. 

“We are committed to help curb the effects of climate change by protecting these fragile ecosystems, which people still know so little about,” PLDT chairman and CEO Manuel V. Pangilinan said. 

Made of carbon-rich soil derived from dead and decaying plant matter under high water saturation condition, peatlands can store twice as much carbon as all the world’s forests combined.

However, its crucial role in mitigating climate change, as well as the huge costs that arise when these natural carbon sinks are damaged, remains largely overlooked.

The three-year peatlands conservation program will be implemented by PLDT and Smart in partnership with the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) — through its Biodiversity Management Bureau (BMB) and CARAGA Regional Office. PLDT is the first private company in the Philippines to engage with DENR on peatlands conservation.

“We will share our expertise on innovations that can help protect peatlands, and will deploy solutions that leverage on digital technology and our network,” Pangilinan added.

PLDT and Smart will also support peatlands management strategies by equipping Bantay Danao volunteers with digital and communication tools such as radio devices, mobile phones, and drone equipment to support them in their enforcement activities. Formed in 2017, the Conservation Group was deputized by DENR- CARAGA to protect the AMWS.  

A similar tech-based environmental stewardship program of PLDT-Smart is a collaboration with US-based NGO Rainforest Connection, for an Internet of Things (IoT) solution of the same name.

Launched in the first quarter of 2020, Rainforest Connection is a collaborative effort between Smart, the DENR, and Huawei Technologies Philippines.

The program makes use of old cell phones, all powered by solar panels and wireless technology, to monitor and record ambient sounds of DENR-identified priority forest areas. The bio-acoustics are then uploaded to a cloud service using Smart’s mobile network connectivity.

The collected data are accessible to DENR forest rangers, who also receive real-time alerts on sounds of chainsaws, trucks, and other sounds of forest destruction. Since the deployment, several alerts of illegal logging have so far been verified and foiled by the forest rangers.

The PLDT Group’s Chief Sustainability Office is also geared to scale up Smart’s joint initiative with network vendor Ericsson for Connected Mangroves.

Deployed in the Bangkung Malapad Critical Habitat and Eco-tourism Area in Sasmuan, Pampanga, the IoT for mangroves protection uses wireless connectivity to collect critical data relevant to the survival of these plants, such as water level, temperature, soil moisture, and other conditions in the mangrove area.

The information, which is being collected by the mangrove sensor system, is transmitted over a cloud system to a dashboard accessible to the fisherfolk communities and authorities.

Mangrove forests are deemed important in the protection of seaside communities from typhoons, flooding, erosion and other coastal hazards, and serve as a vital habitat for various aquatic life forms. 

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