Filipino developed ‘ARAICoBeH’ takes the pain out of coral mapping

Published September 26, 2019, 7:23 PM

by Dhel Nazario, Jeffrey G. Damicog, and Rey G. Panaligan

By Jan Carlo Anolin

“ARAICoBeH” is now an officially accepted scientific term. Yes, not just a “hugot” line but a scientific term.

ARAICoBeH, which stands for A Rapid Assessment Instrument for Coastal Benthic Habitat, is a low-cost tool that would “enable large-scale but low-cost coastal benthic habitat characterization and mapping without compromising accuracy,” the Philippine Biology Conferences said.

The "ARAICoBeH" tool used by Filipino researcher during their field survey in El Nido, Palawan. (Photo courtesy of Patrick Lawrence P. Cadeliña)
The “ARAICoBeH” tool used by Filipino researcher during their field survey in El Nido, Palawan. (Photo courtesy of Patrick Lawrence P. Cadeliña)

The tool was developed by Filipino researchers Caryl S. Benjamin, Patrick Lawrence P. Cadeliña, Aletta T.Yñiguez, and Cesar L. Villanoy of the University of the Philippines-Diliman Marine Science Institute (UP MSI) and Germany’s Technische Universität München.

“We’re proudly (and unapologetically) announcing to the world that ARAICoBeH is now an officially accepted scientific term!” Cadeliña took his excitement to Facebook last Sept. 16.

It garnered around 1,700 shares and 2,400 reactions as of this posting. “From seemingly-endless dives, week-long trips during fields, to sleepless nights of coding, sorting and identifying photos. And of course, writing! It took us five years but then here we are!”

The Philippine Biology Conferences approved of ARAICoBeH as well.

“Yes, you read it right. ARAICoBEH is no longer your typical “hugot” line,” it said.

In an online interview with Manila Bulletin, Cadeliña explained that the tool consists of three parts namely a dropcam (drop camera), an action camera on a stick tied to a rope, an echosounder that measures the depth automatically and a Global Positioning System (GPS) which provides the geospatial information for the photos.

“Our study is in two parts: first is comparing the data gathered using our tool with that of the conventional way of scuba diving. [T]he second part is showcasing its efficiency as a tool: using it can gather data over vast coastal areas for shorter amount of time and is less expensive,” Cadeliña told the Manila Bulletin.

To test the tool, the researchers conducted a comparative study between the ARAICoBeH and the frequently used underwater photo transects method.

The "ARAICoBeH" tool used by Filipino researcher during their field survey in El Nido, Palawan. (Photo courtesy of Patrick Lawrence P. Cadeliña)
The “ARAICoBeH” tool (Photo courtesy of Patrick Lawrence P. Cadeliña)

Variables compared were the percent coral cover, the usual metric for coral reef health, functional group diversity, community structure, time, and monetary requirements.

During field survey in El Nido, Palawan, the researchers set the camera on time lapse and dropped it just above the corals. The echo sounder will automatically tell them how long they should reel the rope to avoid damaging the corals while the GPS simply records the location.

Figure 1 of the their study specifically also shows that the ARAICoBeH instrument was made up of an underwater camera attached to a 20-centimeter (cm) metal pole with acrylic fin to serve as a rudder while a 25-cm rope attaches the pole to a three-kilogram weight which acts as stabilizer.

All of these materials were tied to a boat via a calibrated 20-meter mountaineering rope.

“The boat moves from shallower to deeper portions of the reef while we’re [dragging] the camera with us,” he said.

When the researchers returned at the UP MSI after the survey, the images gathered were scored for coral cover.

Results showed that there were “no significant differences in estimates of percent coral cover and diversity of benthic functional groups for majority of sites while estimates of community structure were very similar.”

The researchers concluded ARAICoBeH can be used as alternative tool to assess and monitor the state of shallow marine benthic habitats without compromising accuracy.

However, the researchers also noted several limitations such as that the method is not applicable to sites with steep slopes like reef walls and with sudden changes in bathymetry, the measurement of depth of water in oceans, rivers, and lakes.

But naming it into a colloquial term was not really the intention at all. Cadeliña recalled that they initially planned to name it only as a Filipino sounding term so that it can be easily remembered.

It so happened that during one brainstorming session, the researchers eventually came up with the name “ARAICoBeH.”

“The questions ‘what was it intended for = quick/rapid assessment’, ‘what it is = survey tool/ instrument’, and ‘where it is used = near shore/coastal benthic habitats (since it’s not limited to coral reefs) just helped naming it,” Cadeliña explained.

Their study titled “Development and application of a low-cost rapid assessment system for coastal benthic habitats” was published online on Sept. 14 by Springer, a global scientific, technical, and medical portfolio.

The system was developed during the course of the National Assessment of Coral Reef Environments of the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) and Coral Reef Visualization and Assessment programs of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), the Philippine Biology Conferences said.