Visit by international boarding school
Same as last year in January, 22 students and 3 teachers visited MCP in the middle of January with five days of diving plus three cultural days (although science officer Dolf managed to sneak them off into the mangroves too to teach about his speciality) It was a very rewarding but also tiring week for staff, volunteers, students and teachers, and they of course had a massive long flight back to Denmark.
The most interesting part of the dive program was to train the students from Ranum Efterskole College and make them ready for the research program. We wanted to see if it was possible to teach inexperienced students everything they needed to know about invertebrates in two days, so that they could spend their third day on data collection for our invertebrate surveys. In this way we would have a win-win situation; we could collect a lot of useful data in a day with such a big group and the students would come home having learned a lot about marine biology and invertebrates.
Surveying for these creatures was an eye opener for the students. Many scuba divers, no matter if experienced or not, mainly look at fish (and turtles!) when they are in the water, disregarding whole groups of smaller animals (that sometimes don’t even look like animals!). And so students learned that giant clams, cowries and nudibranchs are actually very cool if you look a bit closer. Fortunately, everybody listened well to the briefings and didn’t touch anything … well, at least not on purpose, so noone hurt themselves on the spines of the diadema urchin or the poisonous barb of the cone shell.
After a check-out dive, the students spent the next dives getting to know the different invertebrates and learning how to survey along a transect.
The actual data collection turned out to be quite tricky. On one hand you want to be close enough to the ground so you don’t overlook invertebrates, on the other hand you definitely do not want to touch the coral either – and while maintaining this balance, at the same time you have to remember to ‘zig-zag’ along the transect line and stay within the defined border of the transect. The students were convinced it was going to be easy, but it theory seemed med much easier than doing it for real. If on top of that the current drags you along, it is hard to gather reliable data the students found out.
After the school left, we asked our volunteers to try to verify the findings of the students, and to do research on the same transects and compare the results. It turns out there were very big differences. I.e. between finding 35 feather stars on 80 meters of transects and 95 four days later shows that there was a big difference between samples.. There’s no doubt we expected too much. After all, our own volunteers have more extensive training before we put them on the survey, and to be fair are also much better scuba divers.
Next year it is time for something different. We had a good evaluation with our volunteers and decided that if the boarding school comes here next year and we decide to host them again, the main goal will be to improve their understanding of marine life and conservation, and to do Dives With An Immediate Purpose (reef clean-ups etc), instead of trying to help collecting scientifically valid data for our studies.
Our last two diving days were spend on Apo Island, which the students enjoyed very much. Everybody saw plenty of sea turtles, the visibility was great and on the last two dives the students themselves had a chance to plan and lead their own dives.
A visit to to a local secondary school, the local cattle market of Malatapay and a day of wandering in the Red rock area with wonderful waterfalls and hot springs made the trip complete.
Logistically we misjudged thirst and snack-cravings a bit, so when the school left we still had twelve crates of soft drinks and hundreds of candy bars. The volunteers don’t seem to mind though…