Raja Ampat 2012: An Old Dog Learning New Tricks

This is the third in a multi-part series chronicling the 2012 trip to monitor the health of coral reefs in Raja Ampat, Indonesia. This year, Conservancy scientists are traveling to Raja Ampat alongside colleagues from CI and WWF.

This post was authored by WWF’s Helen Fox and is cross-posted on CI’s blog.

As I finished up today’s monitoring, I realized it was my 1000th dive. Hard to believe, as I’ve been spending most of my work time indoors in front of the computer or in meeting rooms these days. Such a great feeling to be out in the field and diving again, looking at beautiful corals as part of understanding reef resilience.

We’re hoping to apply lessons learned from the Bird’s Head Seascape in another amazing region of Indonesia: the Sunda Banda Seascape. This global conservation priority region stretches from just below the Bird’s Head of Papua southwest to Bali, spanning an area of about half the size of the continental United States. In thinking about how we will create a regional monitoring and evaluation plan, we want to bring together information from universities, government agencies and local NGOs. On this trip, we are trying some new technologies that might make that process easier.

Standard coral reef ecological monitoring includes recording coral cover and fish populations on underwater paper and then transferring that data to a computer. Data entry, cleaning, standardization, sharing, and analysis are huge challenges in the process of turning information into good decisions and policies. In order to streamline this process, we want to test out other possible methods for monitoring the health of coral reefs, including using cell phones to collect data underwater.

We bought two different “ruggedized” cell phones and two different underwater housings, and we are testing two different software programs to try to learn which kinds of reef monitoring are potentially well-suited to cell phone data collection. In theory, we can collect the data on the phones underwater, and then upload the information (when the phones have a signal) to a cloud database. So far, both housings passed the “tissue test” (the tissue we put inside stayed dry down to 10 meters, or 30 feet) and the phones worked underwater in the rinse bucket on the boat. Next, we’ll try with the phones in the ocean … fingers crossed!

Learn more about the Conservancy’s involvement in the game-changing Coral Triangle Initiative on Coral Reefs, Fisheries and Food Security.

(Image: The author holds up the cell phones and housings that passed the “tissue test.” Image credit: Sangeeta Mangubhai/TNC.)

If you believe in the work we’re doing, please lend a hand.


  1. How do you write on the touchscreen through the plastic cover? Most smartphones have capacitive touchscreens that don’t work via pressure.

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