My first impressions as an intern at MCP
by Shanice Schneider, Germany
Traveling from Germany to the Philippines was a long trip; you can imagine how long it feels to travel half way around the globe. I arrived at MCP on Monday evening together with three other people. At dinner we met the whole team and afterwards we moved into our huts, fell into our bunk beds and slept like babies. The next morning we woke up, well rested and ready to get right to work.
The day starts with breakfast, then the trucks are packed with all the scuba gear that you need to dive, afterwards, you will be taken to one of the nearby diving spots. In order to gain some diving experience the newbies take the open water diving course in their first couple days at the camp. Since I am already a proud owner of a diving certification I went straight to boot camp on the first day. After a short briefing I went straight into the water. We “kissed” spoons with our regulators and swam through hula hoops like dolphins. All of this sounds a bit strange and funny perhaps, but it is actually important for our work here at MCP.
Basically it’s all about Buoyancy Control! Buoyancy control is a significant skill for diving and especially for the work on the coral reef. In German we would say, you can’t behave like an elephant in a porcelain shop. If your buoyancy is not controlled you might destroy the reef, which is the exactly the opposite of what we are trying to do!
The next days flew by like a heartbeat. We practiced how to fix tape measures on the reef; here we call them reels. We practiced rolling them in and out without damaging corals or other living components of the reef. All of this sounds easy at first, but someetimes the measurement bands develop a life of their own. It is not easy to have that under control as well as your buoyancy while reeling in and out, while following the correct compass heading – these all must be learned and practiced. After all the basic things were practiced, I began substrate training with a few other volunteers. For the duration of your stay at MCP you are likely going to join the group of substrate, invertebrate or fish surveyors. In substrate training everything is about identifying the different components of the reef, for example you have to decide if that coral right in front of you is a hard coral, a soft coral, a sponge or an anemone or maybe even something entirely different. Identifying an anemone is easy; it’s like in the movie Finding Nemo, if it looks like it and there is a fish living in it, it is most likely an anemone, but compare this to counting tentacles on a tiny coral to identify it correctly is sometimes hard work. After successfully completing the training you can go and collect the data that MCP needs to carry out its research. In addition to this training you can also take part in different diving courses. My advanced open water course starts next week, I am already extremely excited to see what the reef looks like at night and what awaits me when I deep dive.
After an interesting but also exhausting week with many dives, you cannot miss out on the weekends. On Saturdays we usually go for fun-dives or we are working together with the local communities, for example doing beach clean-ups to collect as much trash as possible from the local beaches. On Saturday evenings we usually have a nice BBQ all together while sitting around a bonfire, some drink beer or filipino rum mixed with coke; which is cheap but tastes horrible! Some people dance and some just sit and talk; it’s a lot of fun. One of my favourite days is Sunday which is our shared rest day. This means that there is no diving at all, and also no one cooks for us so you have to either find some food outside of base, or if you do not want to leave you can always cook for yourself. Personally I like to go to a resort nearby where we can have good food and a nice time relaxing at the pool. Since we are already talking about good food it’s worth mentioning that the meals at MCP are absolutely delicious!
After being here for two weeks I can say that I have already learned a lot and everyday I learn something new. I am here to do research on seagrass and how to monitor it. Seagrass is an important part of the ocean’s ecosystems and there is still so much research to do. Everyone here at MCP is really friendly, nice and welcoming. Despite the fact that there is only cold water showers, I really feel comfortable and happy here. And yes I know what everyone is thinking! – but really it’s so hot here you don’t need warm water. However just sometimes you do miss it (for example after night dives). That was all about my first two weeks at MCP, I’ll keep you posted on my adventure here!
(editors note: There is a actually a hot water shower, Shanice just hasn’t looked in the right bathroom yet! Possibly she will find it before she leaves in five months.)