Hello there! First things first, let me introduce myself: my name is Joel, I’m 25 years old, and am currently doing a masters in Marine Biology and Conservation in Lisbon, Portugal.
As I’m writing this post, it’s been exactly 3 months since I first got here at MCP (Marine Conservation Philippines), even though it doesn’t feel like it at all. Life’s so good here and everyone is so amazing that time just seems to fly by.
I came to MCP to do a data collection for my master’s thesis, which focuses on Marine Protected Areas (MPAs). I’m basically surveying several indicator fish species (77 to be precise!) inside and outside MPAs, to compare biomass, diversity and richness between protected areas where fishing is not allowed and in fished sites outside the boundaries of MPAs. I’m also crosschecking those variables with others such as distances from MPAs to rivers, ports and villages, substrate coverage (habitats present in the sites), and a couple more to try to find other possible explanations in case no differences are found between the inside and the outside of MPAs, as fish also depend on abiotic factors such as the ones I just mentioned.
It took more or less 3 intense weeks of training with the amazing onsite science officer, Annelies, who trained me and some awesome interns helping me collecting data to become “expert” fish spotters and identifiers underwater. For my thesis, I also needed to find control sites for all the MPAs and where MCP didn’t conduct surveys, so I had to go out exploring different possible sites with a friend that was also at MCP at that time. That friend doesn’t know it, but one of the places we found is now called “turtle heaven”, because we sometimes see more than 20 turtles in 2 dives at that site. A detail I forgot to mention is that MCP put a “Ferrari” at my disposal to go to the different dive sites, which is really nice and definitely something I’m going miss when I leave (check out the pictures at the end)! It can’t go unsaid though; a Ferrari’s life in the Philippines is not an easy one, because they do indeed hate the rain. After strong rains, the leather is soaked and the car usually doesn’t start in the morning, so sometimes it demands a little push down to road to start. But hey, at least every day is an adventure and it makes you work out in the mornings!
Thanks to Jaz’s (who’s now left) and now Abi’s help, two awesome interns who put up with me everyday, I’m now almost halfway through my data collection, and MCP has really been awesome and very helpful to reach this point. As we’re doing fish surveys, we need to go to places were no other divers are present so the data is not biased, so they put the Ferrari and oxygen (necessary safety when you go diving in remote locations) at our disposal every day and let us make our own plans according to what we need to get done. Another great thing about that is that by going to all this different sites quite regularly, some faces become familiar, and kids are always curious about all the gear we carry around and even though they’re really shy at first, once you ask them a couple questions they loosen up and the laughs start.
Apart from that, everyday life is great down here; we’re in a very relaxed location (in the middle of a botanical garden!), Melba (the local cook) is by far the best and cooks us very delicious food every day, it’s just awesome. I’m vegan, which one could think is a hard thing to be in the Philippines, but still get by easily everyday thanks to Melba. It kind of makes me want to delay my leave and stay here a lot longer I have to say!
Apart from that, I also got to do a PADI Self-Reliant course and a PADI TEC40 course (hoping to do the TEC45 also!) with Soren (MCP’s founder, manager and great instructor), where I learned a lot and opened new diving horizons for me; an amazing experience and something I didn’t think at all I’d have the opportunity to do with all the work that I had planned. Still have 3 more months to go, and I feel everything is going pretty much as planned, so I’m very grateful to MCP and especially to Annelies for making it happen! And of course, really excited for all the upcoming adventures of daily life in the Phillies!