First data results since the pandemic

Along with the rest of the world, the COVID-19 pandemic was a severe disruption for MCP, and our activities were suspended  from March 2020 until February 2022. We tried to use the down time to improve and refine our operations for when we could resume, and we’ve expanded our monitoring horizons to include additional survey sites. Excitingly, new Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) have also been established. This is wonderful, encouraging news for our mission to help ensure food security for local communities. 

We’re very happy to share that we’ve just finished our first complete survey season, which ran from June to September. A massive shout out and thank you to all the volunteers who helped to make it happen, we couldn’t have done it without you! The data is already available on our data portal, and reports for the Municipalities surveys are being written right now.

Over those busy three months, we monitored 13 sites and conducted over 500 surveys, cataloguing coral and substrate cover, fish biomass and invertebrate numbers. We also continued tracking threats to the reef such as marine debris (here’s looking at you, plastic) and Crown of Thorns sea stars, which if left unchecked can have devastating effects on coral reefs. 

All of the data is being shared with local and regional government teams, to empower them to make informed decisions that ensure local reefs, and the incredible diversity of life they support, are given the protection they need to flourish and thrive. In turn, this means that the many communities that have relied on them for food and livelihoods over generations have  sustainable means to support themselves into the future.

As if all that wasn’t enough, we’ve also assisted masters students from Siliman University (one of the best in the Philippines for marine biology) with their research into local fisheries, led beach and dive clean ups all along the coast, built local community capacity by training members of the government’s environmental department to dive, and assisted with the repair and maintenance of the buoys that mark the boundaries of Marine Protected Areas.

Unfortunately, reefs both here in the Philippines and around the world are under pressure from a  variety of threats, almost all entirely down to unsustainable human activities. These include ocean warming and acidification due to ever increasing carbon emissions, over fishing (often illegal), excess nutrients from agricultural run off and pollution entering the ocean, and poorly managed coastal development. 

In the three regional municipalities we monitor (Dauin, Zamboanguita and Siaton), we’ve recorded a general downward trend in the amount of fish biomass observed in both MPAs and non-MPAs. Studies indicate that a minimum fish biomass of 1,195 – 1,900 kg per hectare, or 18 – 25 kg per 150m2 (the unit area size of surveys at MCP) are necessary to maintain sustainable reef fish populations and support critical ecosystem services. 

The recorded fish biomass for each region are as follows:

  • Dauin – 32 kg per 150m2
  • Siaton – 13.2 kg per 150m2
  • Zamboanguita – 12.7 kg per 150m2

This gives a regional average of 16.2 kg per 150m2, unfortunately somewhat below the target of 18 – 25 kg per 150m2. The most likely reason for this is due to pressure from over fishing, though external disturbances are also possible. 

However, it’s not all bad news. The municipality of Dauin enjoys a well earned reputation as a world class diving spot, largely due to its wonderful abundance of benthic cryptofauna small, weird and otherwise fantastic. As such, it benefits from established, well funded and enforced MPAs, which is reflected in the high fish biomass observed there. 

Similarly, the site of Basak Can-Unsang MPA in the municipality of Zamboanguita is well known to support high fish biomass (averaging 29 kg per 150m2 since 2019), a beacon of productivity in a municipality that averages 12.7 kg per 150om2. Like Dauin, it also benefits from a high level of  maintenance, enforcement and community backing. These two examples in particular highlight the effectiveness of well managed MPA, and there’s no reason to doubt this can’t be replicated elsewhere, especially if the financial benefits of thoughtful tourism can be harnessed (with this in mind, we’ve also expanded our monitoring program to include fascinating critters that might entice divers to these lovely waters). It should also be noted that despite the majority of MPAs falling short of suggested targets, they are still supporting higher fish biomass than non-MPAs, illustrating their value as a tool for ensuring food security, provided they are managed effectively.

Key to all of this, is the engagement and support of the local stakeholders we work with. One of the fundamental tenets of Marine Conservation Philippines is to serve the community, and it is only by doing so that we can meet our conservation goals. In a world of massive, human made problems, this highlights the power of small scale, human made solutions. We can’t do what we do without passionate volunteers who learn scientific diving and help drive our marine monitoring.  Very big thanks and appreciation to everyone who’s come and helped us get off the ground in 2022.

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Press release: Environmental NGO calls for revision of disastrous IATF travel guidelines

PRESS RELEASE
February 15th 12:03
For Release: Immediately

Calls on IATF and Bureau of Immigration to consider the environment under new Travel Rules


Zamboanguita, Negros Oriental.
After two years of strict pandemic border control and following recommendation and guidelines established by the Inter Agency Task Force, the Philippines reopened borders for international tourism starting February 10th. Tourists from 154 countries are now able to enter the Philippines and get a 9A tourist visa on arrival, valid for a maximum of 30 days.

Pre-COVID tourism in the Philippines contributed ~13% of the economy and more than seven million Filipinos were employed in the tourism sector. The border reopening is an immense leap forward, and will no doubt create jobs and provide much needed tax money to rebuild the nation after two hard pandemic years.

While a step in the right direction, tragically the new entry rules are only “half baked.” Prior to COVID, foreign tourists could enter the country and after their first thirty days they could extend their tourist visa for a fee. Many did, and with seven thousand amazing islands to explore, many felt thirty days was not enough to scratch the surface. Unfortunately under the new travel rules extension is no longer possible.
A tourist can get thirty days maximum, after which they are required to leave the country. This has a number of unfortunate economic and environmental consequences.

This means some people will not bother going to the Philippines, as they cannot spend their whole holiday here.
This means many visitors will spend less money in the Philippines
This means that fewer jobs are re-created
This means that tourists who want to see more of the Philippines will have to pointlessly fly out to Bangkok, Singapore or another Asian travel hubs, just to fly right back in, which congests airports and is extremely bad for the environment.
This means that the country miss out on significant fees for extending tourist visas
This creates extra work for airport and immigration personnel, who for no good reason have to send people in and out of the country.

The illogical implementation of 30 days maximum does nothing to reduce spread of covid. Tourists must be fully vaccinated and present a negative test on arrival, so there’s no health benefit whatsoever to ejecting them after thirty days. Further, rapidly dropping infection numbers across the nation is proof the vaccination drives as well as natural herd immunity is yielding protection.

Marine Conservation Philippines urgently implore the IATF and the Bureau of Immigration to reconsider and amend the travel guidelines, and to allow fully vaccinated foreigners to extend their stay in the Philippines to support tourism sector rebuild efforts. Further we point out and urge the IATF to not cause pointless environmental damage through creating a damaging need for “border runs.” As we are an island nation, foreigners will have to fly back and forth and each border run will cause environmental damage.


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BACKGROUND

Marine Conservation Philippines is a non-profit NGO established in the Philippines in 2015.  Through scientific research the organization empowers coastal communities in the Visayas to establish Marine Protected Areas, to reduce pressure on fish stocks to combat ocean pollution and to plant mangroves.  

Mission Statement: Using science to understand how local and global pressures affect marine ecosystems, we empower, engage, and build local and national capacity to reduce and adapt to these pressures, aiming for a sustainable future for the Philippine people and environment.

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Using downtime for base improvements

As the covid19 pandemic rages on and borders are still closed, it’s been a priority for MCP to try and keep our local staff employed for as long as we are financially able to so they may continue supporting their families. The downtime has been used to make a lot of renovations and base improvements. Former volunteers will be happy to know that thanks to a new water tower and new piping, we now have good water pressure all over base – even when everyone is trying to shower at once. We have built additional toilets and showers, which will help increase safety when we open up again, in terms of fewer people using facilities.

Aside from constructing the water tower and showers/toilets many improvements, big and small have been going on.  While we’ve not documented the whole process, a few pictures below show some of the renovating process. The bungalows are getting new raised roofs of sak-sak, a native long grass that grow in wetlands, as well as new windows, wall cladding and sky lights.  All in all the dormitories seem much larger, airier and brighter.

 

new volunteer bungalows New showers and toilets at MCP

 

 

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COVID19 through the eyes of an intern

As a MCP science intern, I thought I knew what to expect – diving each day in one of the most biodiverse areas of the world, working hard within the monitoring team to help with surveying and training volunteers, and to prepare for the busiest six months of my life. But, believe it or not, I wasn’t prepared to undergo life here amid a worldwide pandemic.

How everything unravelled

The Philippines was the first country to have a reported case of COVID-19 outside of China. At the beginning of the outbreak in February, which now feels like so long ago, the staff at MCP were as dismayed as everyone else and took safety precautions early on. We reduced our interaction with the outside community – a decision that was easy to implement considering we already live in a commune. Then, after a couple of weeks, all new information about the Corona Virus in the Philippines dried up; there were no newly reported cases and certainly no fear that this would become a serious threat. At the back of our minds, we maybe had our suspicions that this seemed too-good-to-be-true but did our best to continue running MCP as normal, with one eye focused on conservation work and the other constantly checking for any breaking headlines.

And then suddenly the world exploded! We watched aghast from our camp as the number of COVID-19 cases grew in so many countries. European countries were considering lockdowns and starting to call back residents to home, many of whom were currently volunteering at MCP. Even the Filipino press ended their silence. The number of infected people in the Philippines jumped from three and within a few days it was over a hundred. 

The next Friday morning, the Head of Operations at MCP gave an announcement that would change everything. Soren stood with tears in his eyes to tell us that the President of the Philippines had given a speech describing plans to lock down the capital between 14 March and 13 April. During this time any incoming domestic travel from other islands would be cancelled so this would affect anyone wishing to go home. There was also a huge possibility, Soren said, that this would start a ripple affect across the Philippine archipelagos and this lockdown could be the first of many. It was at this point it really hit me; that we’d have to say goodbye to our amazing volunteers and pause the dream that is living and working at MCP.

Get those volunteers home!

We said some early goodbyes to some of our lovely volunteers, who made the difficult decision to cut their experience short the next day in order to get home to their families. Others decided to hold on and await new information. And that new information did come in a flood on Sunday.

I wanted to add here that over that weekend I watched the staff struggle to make fast and difficult decisions with limited information, but always with the safety of the volunteers at the forefront of their minds. At base we were trying to string together pieces of information from the local media and staff connections with Local Government Units, but frustratingly we always seemed one step behind of the rush.

On Sunday we awoke to news that Dumaguete airport had closed with no warning. As well as this, all ferry ports in Negros would be closed apart from one, with the last boat would be leaving the island at 9pm that same day. Basically, if the volunteers wanted to leave, they would need to leave right that instant. Base turned into a packing frenzy, and we had almost finalised a plan before Soren’s phone buzzed. New information! Don’t take the ferry! The local government are organising flights for tourists now being described as ‘stranded internationals’, we need only to send a list of names and wait. We didn’t hear anything more until the next morning at 8.30am: Then a panicked phonecall. There’s a coastguard boat leaving in 1hr 30mins! Last boat and last chance to get to Cebu. The only requirements are a medical check before boarding. Just to put this into perspective, MCP is about an hour drive from Dumaguete port and along with visiting the hospital there was little chance we’d make it in time. But our only option was to try, and as we loaded trucks with volunteers for the hospital, I joined two staff members to head straight to the port to try and delay the boat.

We were hopeful, but the medical checks just took too long, and the coastguard were not willing to wait. But it really was eye opening to see how many other foreign nationals were arriving to also desperately try and make their way out. Once all their names were collected and combined with our volunteers it reached over 100 people stranded.

The DoT (Department of Trade and Tourism) assured us that there would be a second boat coming, but the time and date were uncertain. Either we could all drive back to base and go back to square one; hovering around limited internet to wait for last minute instructions, or the volunteers could stay in Dumaguete and be mere minutes away when they get called again. It was frustrating that this would be the end of the journey and we couldn’t get them off the island as yet, but I still think that we all made the right choice.

I waved from the truck as it pulled away, looking at the teary faces and morose that it was all over. The volunteer booked a hotel for a night that turned into a few, before they finally made it across to Cebu. Since that day, all the volunteers have made it home safely and I’m sure they have amazing stories of hardship and perseverance to tell their families and friends.

And what now?

Currently there are fifteen of us still living at base, a huge adjustment from the usual forty. Despite this, we’re trying to keep positive as there’s still plenty of conservation work that the MCP staff can get their hands on. Instead of diving, we’re getting resourceful and spending time on dry projects previously left behind due to lack of time. There’s also plans for base to get some much-needed TLC, or at least a lick of paint.

Trying to stay positive also means ignoring the elephant in the room – we’re all locked in on the island of Negros. I made the decision to stay at MCP because this is my home more than anywhere else, but I worry about loved ones that I won’t be able to see for a long time. I’ve taken freedom of movement for granted my whole life and now this privilege has gone it leaves me shaky and unsure of my future.

We’ve separated out our working spaces, have our own cutlery and plates and place at separate dinner tables. We each have our own huts too, all in a bid to self-isolate as much as possible. The nearest village, Lutoban, is home to many elderly and vulnerable people. If any of us get COVID-19, we are fairly young and odds are in our favor. Its pretty safe to assume that we’ll be OK, but the thought of passing it onto someone who would die from this is terrifying.

I have a lot of free time now to reflect; to be sorry about how humanity is struggling and to be thankful for wonderful friends that I’ve met and made here. We’re thinking of you all at this crazy time.

– Emma Levy

 

MCP notePlease see how we help the community in this crisis

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Teaching the LGU dive team in Bais

A few weeks ago our instructor Kyle and a group of dive masters in training (link described the training) had the pleasure of rising early and driving a few hours up coast to Bais city where they met up with a group of government employees who came down to MCP a few months prior to complete the open water diver course. That was the first step in training them to a point where they can  one day independently monitor the status of their own MPAs. Similar efforts are currently ongoing with other municipalities.

The idea of this trip was to get the team back in the water, refresh some skills, and while doing so also have some fun checking out the local MPA. The guys from Bais were beyond excited to be diving again, and as this was also the first time they had been underwater on their home turf, it made for an especially exciting experience.

As far as the training went, we started the morning off with some briefings; going over what skills we would be reviewing and delivering some friendly reminders on buoyancy techniques and other things that may have been forgotten since their last time in the water.
The plan was to go over some of the basics; regulator recovery, mask removal and replacement, hover, and from there just get to work on good trim and buoyancy. Essentially a condensed version of the boot camp we give to new MCP volunteers.

As we geared up and made our way into the sea it was clear that the guys had become a bit rusty after such a long time out. This didn’t last long though, and the team  worked their way through skills and saw significant improvement with each one.

By the end of the second dive, the team was looking near as good as they did when they wrapped up the open water course a few month prior!

Overall a very successful trip! Our divemasters are really looking forward to diving with this fantastic group of guys again as they continue on with their training. The continuation on the Advanced Open Water course is scheduled for late August or September.

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SeaCamp

Engaging the youth through MCP’s Sea Camp!

This summer, after almost two months of preparation, MCP held two of our first ever, three-day Sea Camps! We opened the application process for the first Sea Camp to diverse, local youths who were interested in learning about the marine environment. Whilst for the second Sea Camp, we involved a local orphanage based in Dumaguete. In total, we had 32 amazing and energetic teenagers with us for the two consecutive Sea Camps! Most of the activities were the same between the two camps; however, in the second camp, we focussed more on alternative livelihoods. We taught them how to make pillows out of old hessian sacks and cotton from one of our trees and invited a social enterprise, Lumago, to teach the campers how to upcycle used paper into jewelery.

The primary goal of the camps was to introduce the basics of various coastal ecosystems and understand their importance in our waters. Through awareness raising, they also learned why we need to take care of these ecosystems and act as environmental stewards for the world we live in. By understanding their purpose in this planet, they learned to love, appreciate and share their knowledge to their families and friends.
During the first camp, we teamed up with experienced camp facilitators, Jackie and Julia, from EECO (Experiential Education Conservation Organization) and 2 of their own youth camp graduates to help run the programme and empower our campers. Their knowledge and experience were invaluable for making the campers feel at home and engaged with all of our lessons.

Day one started with an introduction to the program, “getting to know you” games and “ice breakers”, which helped bond the campers and sowed the seeds for lifelong friendships. Then we presented the three main coastal ecosystems (mangroves, seagrass and coral reefs) at different stations around the MCP base, where the campers had 20 minutes per ecosystem to learn as much as they could! The topics were very simple to understand and we incorporated educational games focused on each ecosystem afterwards, to help solidify everything in their long term memories. To top it all off, we went out to the mangroves in Siaton so they could experience the forest first-hand. It was the perfect end to the day with a little meditation to embrace all of their experiences so far.

The campers started early on the second day to walk around the botanical garden and relieve all of the tension in their muscles. They even played volleyball as early as 6:30 am! After filling their stomachs with full Filipino breakfast, we travelled to Dauin Marine Protected Area (MPA) where we conducted a beach clean-up and a simple brand audit. A brand audit is a method by which a person lists down all the manufacturers and brand of each plastic packaging. The sea campers were distributed into three groups and each had their own plastic packaging from the beach clean. They found out that the top three offenders were Universal Robina (e.g. Mang Juan), Liwayway (e.g. Oishi) and Prifood (e.g. Supercrunch). The campers learned that these plastics near the beach will break down into smaller pieces, will be eaten by the fishes and, in turn, eaten by humans. They all mentioned that they never used to think much about their actions but that they now wanted to change their behaviour and influence their families to use less single use plastics and dispose of their trash properly.Volunteers and kids gathering at the guardhouse

It was a hot day so all of the campers couldn’t wait to jump into the ocean. Each camper was paired with an MCP volunteer who taught them how to use a mask and snorkel and showed them the beautiful coral reefs Dauin MPA has to offer. They were taught lots of signs so they could signal to their buddies which fish and corals they saw underwater! After 30 minutes, they all came out with big, happy smiles from ear to ear!

Of course, their day did not end yet. We introduced them to the word “Marine Protected Area”. This was important to understand the benefits of an MPA and why the marine environment needs protection from anthropogenic threats. This was followed by a trip to a nearby fishing village where they were able to recognise all the threats these ecosystems are facing. It was a revelation for most of them and they asked a lot of enthusiastic questions. The second day ended with a campfire where Nicky Dumapit shared his advocacy for the environment by playing his handmade instruments made to imitate the sounds of nature, such as thunder, water, rain and even a gecko! It was a heart-warming and beautiful starry night and all the campers shared their highlights of the last two days and how their experiences had encouraged them to reduce their plastic use and become true environmental advocates.

The last day of the camp focussed on teaching the participants valuable skills that could help save their lives and gain employment in the future. They learned the basics of CPR, treatment of underwater stings, performed first aid and learnt the recovery position. Some of them were even able to share previous experiences where they had needed these skills. They also learned nine different knots and our staff taught them which to use in case of rescuing people in the water. All this hard work was rewarded with a traditional Filipino boodle fight, which is a type of lunch arrangement wherein the table setting is garnished with banana leaves, rice is spread across the middle and surrounded by (in this case) a platter of vegetarian goodies.

We then spent our afternoon at the PAPSIMCO house where they took part in an interactive game going through the different regulations in the Philippines pertaining to the marine environment. This is a significant topic to learn so they can share the knowledge to the family members who rarely know, for example, that all sea turtles are endangered and should be protected.

As a contribution to the marine environment, we finished the camp by planting Sonneratia mangrove seedlings with each of their name on a little flag. They all felt fulfilled, inspired and ready to share their knowledge and involvement to their fellow classmates, family members and to their local community and even willing to help MCP with our weekly beach clean ups!

It was an amazing time, from preparation to execution and just seeing the smiles of the youths learning new things during their summer break. A well spent summer, indeed!

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Mangrove Rehabilitation with PAPSIMCO

In the last couple of months, our volunteers have been a great help to the local women of PAPSIMCO (Palayuhan, Palimpinon and Siit Multipurpose Cooperative). PAPSIMCO is one of the people’s associations in the Municipality of Siaton, whom MCP works with to promote sustainable livelihood projects. Their largest scale project at the moment is the restoration of their local mangrove forests.

Mangroves are an extremely important ecosystem, globally. They stabilise the shoreline to prevent erosion and remove pollutants from the water. Their complex root systems trap everything that would otherwise drift out to nearby coral reefs and smother them. They are also extremely important nurseries for juvenile, reef fish because their roots provide habitat and shelter. Without mangroves, these juveniles would be forced out into the ocean at sizes far too small to escape predation from larger fish. Their complicated roots also slow incoming tides, forming large deposits of organic rich material. This soil is capable of storing more carbon than most tropical forests have in all their biomass and soil combined. They are therefore termed a “Blue Carbon” sink. These sinks are essential for storing the excess carbon in the atmosphere that would otherwise contribute to global warming.

Seen from above with our new drone, the systematics of the replanting efforts become apparent.

Mangroves are particularly important for the local community in Siaton because they protect the shoreline from strong waves during typhoon season. The mangrove forest in Tambobo Bay, where PAPSIMCO is based, has approximately 23 species but the mangrove nursery only contains a small subset of this climactic community because the project only started in 2018. By continually restocking the nursery and expanding the number of species it can hold, PAPSIMCO aims to eventually rehabilitate the entire mangrove forest of Tambobo Bay.

On this visit, volunteers needed to help restock the PAPSIMCO nursery with Sonneratia and Avicennia mangrove species (local names “Pagatpat” and “Bungalon” respectively). These two species are adapted to harsh environmental conditions such as strong winds, waves and salt water making them the perfect barriers between land and sea. Volunteers waded out into the deep mud with bamboo shovels to harvest the correct seedlings. When these seedlings are tiny, it can be extremely difficult to tell the difference between species. The PAPSIMCO members came to the rescue, assisting the volunteers and explaining the key differences in leaf shape and preparing sticks with red or green paint to help distinguish between species. On these occasions, our teams targeted mainly Sonneratia seedlings because this species only produce seeds once a year.

Volunteers collected a whopping total of 440 mangrove seedlings over just two Saturday mornings! These seedlings will remain in the PAPSIMCO nursery for roughly 7 months, until they achieve heights greater than 1 meter. Once seedlings grow taller than a meter, they are called saplings. Volunteers will plant these saplings out in the seaward area of the forest later in the year.

Saving the best news until last, MCP has just helped PAPSIMCO secure enough funding to remodel their broken boardwalk. This project will enable PAPSIMCO to conduct ecotours of the mangroves, educating tourists from all over the world about the importance of these forests for local communities, coral reef ecosystems and the global climate crisis.

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Presenting at the UN Asia Pacific Day for the Ocean

When someone tells you: “we’re running a little late so everyone will have just 8 minutes,” that could be a good thing. Not many people really enjoy a spotlight and sometimes it can be nerve-racking, delivering presentations to people who really do know their stuff. It can be nice, just a quick talk, get it done first and relax. It can also be quite horrifying, knowing that you will be up against a time limit. Knowing that with every word you get out you are one step closer to being cut off. Where do you spend the time? The change in MPA effectiveness indicators overtime? Are the traditional indicators even relevant? Is it spent on the theories around why MPAs are ineffective? Or better on the methodologies being used to study effectiveness? Is that yellow laminated paper really telling me I have one minute left? Relief? Maybe.
 

The opening talks at Asia Pacific Day for the Ocean
Looking back I can’t really remember, there was certainly quite a stream of words, but then the presentation was complete, the information out there. MPAs, can we just throw them anywhere and walk away? Definitely not. One minute for questions. Of course it’s coming from the moderator, the man who set up the conference, the guy that probably knows the answer to the question he’s about to ask. What do I think the problem with the MPAs really is? Site selection, communication, monitoring and evaluation, goal-oriented management, land-rights? Who I am kidding, it’s all of the above.

The Asia Pacific Day for the Ocean, a one day all-go event. Fisheries, mangroves, coral reefs. Private industry, government agencies, NGOs. Small groups, UN conference rooms, workshops and collaboration. Sustainable Development Goal 14, Life Underwater, Communities for Ocean Action.
The day provided the reason and the location for people, companies, government departments, and NGOs engaged in coral reef, mangrove, fisheries, and ocean conservation to come together and talk about progress, and the lack thereof, in Sustainable Development Goal 14: Life Underwater. Life Underwater is the United Nations’ goal that outlines the important issues that need to be focused on in the journey toward protecting the ocean and the coastline. A rather ambitious goal, and, unfortunately, it has not been as successful as other goals, with the ocean suffering greatly over the past decade from climate change, pollution, overfishing, plastic waste and a multitude of other stresses.

At the conference we spoke of (amongst many):

  • The effectiveness of Marine Protected Areas;
  • Research into ocean acidification;
  • Gender roles in small-scale fisheries;
  • The extent and impact of dynamite fisheries;
  • Mangrove reforestation and economics.

And it became clear that actions are certainly being made in all of these areas, perhaps not well coordinated as a group of projects, and perhaps not quite yet at the necessary scale, but certainly present, and certainly impactful. But why has this progress, progress made in the commercial, conservation, government, and religious arenas, not been translated into progress toward to goal: Life Underwater?

This I believe was the central purpose of the Day for the Ocean Conference, not addressing the lack of success, but instead trying to create a centre for recording the progress being made in all of these areas. Highlighting successes, reporting failures, making sure that we all have a source of information to add to and a strong and supportive network to rely on to determine where we are, and how we get to where we want to go: a healthier, more natural, and more protected ocean.

Life Below Water: solving issues in the degradation of the ocean and its resources, Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 14, is reportedly doing quite poorly. While reducing poverty is soaring, 800,000,000 in China raised up, no longer struggling to feed themselves, where have we gotten with safeguarding the global resource of the ocean? According to the reports, we have not gone very far at all. Perhaps even further away than we were 10 years ago.


single action is going to solve the problem. Yet if everyone focusses on a different angle, how can we coordinate, how can we measure what works?

Life Below Water tries to outline how complicated the problem is, how many different ways humans interact with the ocean, where the biggest problems are. That’s why its 10 points are quite broad, covering everything from the ways we may be polluting the ocean right through to the tax breaks and handouts we are giving to fishermen. In a way I guess it’s nice that the goal kind of reflects the ocean ecosystem: with millions of possible courses of action, and no single action is going to solve the problem.

This seems to be the defining feature of Life Below Water strife: how can we make progress when we are not really sure how to measure that progress as a collective? And, also not entirely convinced on which actions are most effective? It is relatively easy to say: “well, just stop polluting, of course.” But how exactly can we be sure that the problem is solved? There will still be pollutants entering the ocean from the soil, long-lasting traces of our mining and agricultural activities, and so to be really sure we will have to monitor changes very closely for a very long time.

These things matter in a world where everything has to be, and very well should be, proven. That approaches can be documented and shown to work so that they can be scaled up. That we are collectively adopting the strategies that will take us to the goal that we all share: an ocean ecosystem that we can rely on, and that can rely on us. But this means that we need make ensure that we are investing in what works, and reporting on what does not, that we have the integrity to accept failures and adapt, and that funding bodies play their role in supporting projects for long enough to ensure success, or identify why certain approaches have not worked.

It is in this exact space that the UN Communities of Ocean Action becomes so valuable. Every day we all go to work and do our thing, whether that be evaluating the success of MPAs, restoring degraded forests, working alongside fishermen, we are all working in our own niches. It’s about time that those niches moved a little closer together. We are all working in the same space, the ocean is at the centre of all of this. We need to start talking a lot more, discussing exactly what it is that we are trying to achieve, aligning our approaches, moving those milestones into something resembling a straight line, a defined and shared goal.

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Exploring Basay’s coastline

For those of you who are not familiar with Basay, it is the most western municipal of Negros Oriental facing the Sulu Sea, about a two hour drive from MCP. It is a gorgeous, little coastal town surrounded by rice, sugar cane and corn fields with spectacular forested mountains just behind. With a Marine Protected Area of 40 hectares fringing the coastline, we were about to find out what Basay had to offer.

MCP had an exciting opportunity to visit this stunning part of the country. The Fisherfolk President of Andulay/President of the Fisherfolk Association of Negros Oriental, had kindly invited us to assist Basay with photographing their local reef.. We were delighted to help the local barangays and community explore their “enchanted” coral reefs and coves to discover and photograph what wonders were found under the surface. We also wanted to help promote eco-friendly tourism.

At 5.30am three divemaster trainees, (Nina, Grace and Helene), and myself packed our gear and extra necessities that we would need for the trip. We drank enough coffee to last us the journey and we were on the road just in time for sunrise (something we are all way too lazy to get up to see usually haha). Driving South along the coastal road from MCP, on to Siaton and up around Bayawan, with possibly the greatest roadtrip chillout music, we arrived at 8.30am ready for a morning briefing (and more coffee). We were absolutely stunned by the community’s welcome and the beauty of the area. The local president of the Fisherfolk Association, Rico, briefed us about the MPA and what can be seen. After a boodle fight breakfast (a Filipino barehanded standing up help-yourself  buffet) we kitted up and jumped in along with divers from Siaton.

After we descended we were blown away by the mountainous reef landscape.  We were amazed by coral towers as tall and wide as two store houses, crevices, swim-throughs and dark overhangs throughout the whole dive. The latest MPA assessment by the DENR documented Bamboo sharks, which we were really hoping to see, but with limited exploration time unfortunately didn’t (Next time!). It is definitely the type of reef where you would expect to see these predators. We were most impressed by the hard and soft coral cover, huge table corals stretching out, and high numbers of fish and invertebrates. It’s hard to describe size of giant clams, but we saw GIANT giant clams tucked into the substrate, spiny lobsters hiding in the walls of the coral towers, and many different species of nudibranch, some of which I have never seen before. We even saw a huge triton alive! (super rare to see unfortunately). We had fusiliers circling around us, peacock groupers shying away from us, many different species of parrot fish, wrasses and snappers, all signifying a healthy reef. We all noted, and were pleasantly surprised, how little trash/fishing line, anchor damage we saw. Even though the visibility wasn’t as good as it could have been we were still pretty mesmerized. My favourite part of the dive was coming up to our safety stop, hovering over these stunning towers, with the light coming through, trying to peak down into the cracks to see what we can find. The crew, our surface support, free dived down to proudly point out corals and marine life making sure we saw it ALL before ascending.

We ended our day with a huge thank you from Rico, Neil and the community of Basay and drove back with the memory cards full  and the sun setting behind us.

Until next time Basay… 

Aoibheann Gillespie-Mules

Volunteer Coordinator/MSDT

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Improvements at MCP Base

Over the past year and half I have watched the MCP base change, mold and shape into a place to where we can better work and focus our conservation efforts towards what is important, but also into a home away from home for all of us living at MCP.

Those of you that have been here already would really notice the differences if you saw it. If you have not been here yet, you will absolutely love and appreciate the comforts and workspace we have created.

So I am going to split this blog into the different areas and give you the low down on changes I’ve seen over the last year and half.

NEW AND IMPROVED KITCHEN

This Christmas we were able, for the first time, to ALL fit in while cooking Christmas dinner hehe! That was 20 people, glazing the ham, peeling the spuds, stirring the gravy, brewing the mulled wine… It was impressive.

The kitchen has been refurbished into possibly the greatest place on base to chill, have a coffee and to make a snack. I’ve even started cooking a little (those of you who know me, know that I do not cook)!The MCP kitchen seen from inside the hex Surfaces are stainless steel or tiled and we now have two storerooms, One for cleaning essentials, clean towels and sheets, and one for all our wonderful ingredients for our fantastic chefs Melba, Bernard and Joan to prepare. Helle’s serious organizational skills has ensured that the beans, corn, chickpeas, jalepeños etc are all in order. (Possibly even alphabetically hehehe!). There is enough space to DANCE in the kitchen. We also have a second floor above the kitchen, we still have no plans of it’s use, but for a while it held a litter of puppies that someone had anonymously dumped at base, hoping we would give them good homes (we’ve found good families for all nine by the way!) but potentially it could be a little reading corner. Any ideas, do let us know.

THE CLASSROOM

Imagine looking out into open forest, hearing the birds whistling in in the morning, the crickets chirping at night and with a cool breeze coming through the branches. This is basically what you see, hear and feel looking out from the new classroom window. Built behind the Hex, above two staff rooms, is the new very spacious, open classroom with wide, glass, french doors facing out into the arboretum. If there is anywhere you want to have a presentation with a huge wide screen tv, or do some quiet study, this is the PLACE! The table is a huge concrete masterpiece, perfect for planning deep dives with a surface that you can write with chalk all over. Who says you need a blackboard! (which we also actually do have). Plus, there is a bonus… those of you that would like a little bit of alone time from sleeping in the dorms, there is even a loft with two beds, perfect for a bit of privacy. With a bathroom, kettle, tea and coffee, there is possibly no better place to wake up.

THE COSY ROOM (The old classroom)

Those of you that have been here, this little spot used to be the old classroom and study. Surrounded by trees a bit further from the kitchen and hex we have “The Square” or now more commonly known as the cosy room (and that is exactly what it is, cosy). With a wide screen to watch documentaries or late night movies, beanbags, hammocks, a day bed and little coffee tables, surrounded by little green succulents, this is the loveliest place to hang out, relax, have some quiet time and a place to really put your feet up after a busy day of diving!

OTHER LITTLE CHANGES AROUND BASE

VEGGIE GARDEN

We now have beds of tomatoes, pechay (leafy green), cabbage, eggplant, pineapple, papaya all growing behind the kitchen. Its been very exciting watching the little sprouts grow and soon hopefully, and we have already harvested once. Our aim is to be even more sustainable.

CHICKEN COOP

If you have been here recently, we know we have FRESH eggs every day! Our hens have their coop (Chick Inn) behind the kitchen with a huge pen to roam around in, and they are happily laying around 30 eggs per day. After you’ve made a cup of coffee at breakfast you can then go and collect a warm fresh egg (without even being pecked if you are a bit chicken savvy) and cook yourself an omelette. Can’t get better than that, right?

TWO COMPRESSORS WITH TOP RANGE GAS BLENDING SETUP

Divemaster trainees, you will probably be the HAPPIEST to hear we now have two massive compressors, offering full redundancy and super charged filling time. Can you believe it? Now your time spent charging tanks is short! You will even be finished in time for dinner. It’s also been pretty impressive how many volunteers are interested and end up doing the PADI gas blender course. (I’m blaming the new setup, it is pretty snazzy).

RECYCLING UNIT

Since our wonderful intern Amy Slack set up our recycling unit to segregate trash from our beach and dive clean ups to be able to recycle as much as possible, we’ve now upgraded and can recycle even more of our findings, from bottle caps to old textiles. Our chooks of course feast on most of our food leftovers, and we compost for all the other scraps of food.

And finally… THE MONSTER TRUCK (Kind of ☺)

We have a new truck, one which has even a tv! Yes, I said it… when you reverse you can actually see where you are going hehehe. This truck is being modified by our wonderful maintenance staff to prepare it for long range expeditions. Exciting times ahead…

So overall, there has been lots of little BIG changes at base to allow your stay to be as comfortable as possible, feel at home help your conservation efforts be as productive as possible.

Hope you get a chance to come experience these changes, and those of you that have already been here, hope to see you all back here soon,

Sending ALL the love,

Your volunteer coordinator,
Aoibheann (EFIN)

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