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The Road: Moving on from Aninuan

For the last 5 years Puerto Galera has been Reef-World’s home but with an ever expanding conservation team and the ability to increase conservation outputs, we were fast becoming a big fish in a rather small, but well liked, pond. So a little while ago now, on the 6th May, with heavy hearts, we loaded up a Jeepney and began the 800km (37 hour) journey across the Philippines from Puerto Galera, Oriental Mindoro to our new home in Dumaguete, Negros Oriental. As with living in any developing country, the ride was less than smooth. Twice the jeepney was delayed because of full ferries but at least this allowed Sam and Alan, our project coordinators, a chance to watch a beautiful moon rise and get some much needed sleep before the 1am ferry, which eventually left at 330am. At 7am the jeepney and load was greeted on Panay by blazing sunshine and preparations were made for a day of travelling. Making good progress, the jeepney arrived at Dumangas Port, Iloilo in time for yet another full ferry to depart without us. Despite this, driver and crew always remained in good spirits and demonstrated unrivalled driving skills; pushing on constantly except for dinner and ferries. Even the caretakers of our new houses greeted us with smiles despite us arriving in Dumaguete at 3am, 36 hours after starting out. At 4am, unloading our new office and house had finished and much sleep was had, though not before a quick ‘we made it’ photo opportunity. Unrelenting, the jeepney crew were awake 3 hours later and preparing to leave for the return journey!

For Reef-world, Dumaguete boasts many logistical bonus’ that residing in Puerto Galera just wasn’t providing. Better internet speeds to make those conservation emails deliver that little bit faster, closer to international airports (in both travel time and distance), and the chance to have closer networking relationships with a wider range of stakeholders have all been factors in our relocation to this place we now call home. And while we will miss little Aninuan and Puerto Galera we are consoled by the fact we will be back there soon to coordinate the yearly Green Fins assessments.

Marine Conservation on Malapascua Island, Philippines

On the 14th October 2014, myself, Sam (Green Fins Philippines Coordinator), Alan (Green Fins Project Coordinator), Weenie (Green Fins Volunteer) and Brian (Green Fins Volunteer) left the small barangay of Aninuan for a marine conservation adventure. We arrived on the beautiful Island of Malapascua over a month and a half ago and it has definitely been one of those ‘time flies when you are having fun’ trips. I don’t want you all to start thinking we have been lazing around on the beach with cocktails and doing the occasional dive every now and again, we have worked really hard, but had they best time in the process.

When we first arrived on the island it was very clear that one year on, the island and its people are still recovering from Typhoon Yolanda which caused widespread devastation on the 8th November 2013. Many people were left without homes, schools were destroyed, and aid was at times slow to reach the remote communities. Listening to the stories of local people, dive centre managers and local dive guides, it was amazing to hear how they worked together to rebuild their communities. Dive centres received lots of donations from guests which had visited the island and they used this money to rebuild the homes of their employees and also the local school. However there was a lot of worry that tourists would now stop coming to the dive centres on the island.

Malapascua has become somewhat of a diving hotspot in the Philippines and the world as it is located only a short boat ride away from Monad Shoal, a submerged island covered in coral, which is the only place in the world where divers are guaranteed to see thresher sharks. The sharks come up from depth early in the morning to visit ‘cleaning stations’ on the coral reef where small cleaner wrasse remove the parasites and bacteria from their skin to prevent infection. The typhoon caused widespread devastation both above and below the water and many of the coral reefs were highly damaged or destroyed by the strong waves and currents. These damaged reefs could potentially mean the sharks would no longer visit Monad Shoal and therefore tourists would not come to Malapascua and local people would no longer be able to seek employment within the tourism and diving sector. Speaking to one of the local guides who visited Monad Shoal shortly after the typhoon, he said he could not describe the overwhelming sense of relief and joy he felt when he descended down to the cleaning station and witnessed two sharks. He said he knew from that point that he would still have a job as a dive guide and would be able to feed his family.

One year on, there are 18 active dive centres operating on the island, all of which were visited during our first few days. Our trip objectives were to implement the UNEP initiative Green Fins within the dive centres and to collect data on coral reef health and scuba diver interactions with the reefs for analysis by Bangor University. Weenie and Brian also had a project each, Weenie to develop a dive guide ambassador programme on the island and Brian to create an information and education campaign for local fishermen.

Week one and two involved a crash course in walking down Bounty Beach in Filipino style – this requires walking slow enough to prevent sweat soaking through your luminous green Green Fins t-shirt and not flicking sand up with your flip flops which of course sticks to the sweat, a challenging task I have to say.

Week three and four involved mosquitoes and too many doctors trips to count. Firstly Alan was struck down with Dengue Fever and after two trips to the tiny island clinic it was decided he was to make the 5 hour trip to the hospital in Cebu with nurse Hannah in tow. After returning from Cebu, what we though was a mildly infected mosquito (could also have been a tropical spider bite) on my leg went green and started leaking, it was time to go to the clinic myself. I had my lower leg numbed and a big hole dug in it by a doctor who was amazed I had over 20 mosquito bites despite wearing repellent. She proceeded to ban me from getting my leg wet which meant no diving and learning to shower with one leg in the air.

I left island life behind in week five and headed for the bright lights and big city of Cebu to assist JJ with the Region 7 Green Fins Capacity Development Workshop on Mactan Island, Cebu. (see earlier blog).

Week six and seven were all about the data. Due to having two team members on land rest during weeks three and four, we had not collected as much coral health data as we had hoped. This resulted in some of the best and most intense days yet. I dived every day for 7 days collecting quadrats with my newly named ’nerd square’ and observing divers at a variety of dive sites around Malapascua including; several dives at Gato Island, a 5am dive at Monad Shoal and a day trip to Chocolate Island (sadly not made of chocolate) where one of the divers I was observing got naked mid dive to celebrate their 100th dive! During these two weeks, I learned that Green Fins results in you asking the most random questions to Dive Operators including ‘can I please take a picture of your compost heap?’ and ‘what do you do with the used oil from the boat engines?’

Seven weeks’ worth of sweaty beach trudges later we have completed our work on Malapascua, the conservation impact we have had on the island in such a small period of time has been amazing, Green Fins has been a catalyst in bringing dive operators together to lobby for change, Weenie and Brian launched two self-sustaining projects and we have collected an almost complete data set of reef health for the dive sites. I would also like to highlight the amazing behind the scenes work done by Sam during the trip, conservation isn't always glamorous diving in crystal clear water on coral reefs, it is writing reports, planning ahead, attending meetings and answering emails.

I have had the most amazing time in Malapascua and my experiences here have provided an insight into conservation in the field including; meeting with stakeholders, collecting data and on the spot problem solving/decision making. So this is not a goodbye to Malapascua, but rather a see you soon as I will definitely be back in the future.

Positive Steps For Trash Free Seas

It is rare to visit a beach and not see several items of trash lying in the sand. I don’t think I have ever had the pleasure of visiting a beach without encountering discarded plastic wrappers, plastic bottles, cigarette butts and fishing line. Having studied Marine Biology I truly ‘see’ the trash lying on beaches and I start to think of the consequences such a small item can do to such a large ocean. However I feel most people just filter out the sight of trash – out of sight, out of mind.

If there were items of trash lying in your garden you would pick them up and put them in the bin, so why when we visit beaches do we not do this? Are we too lazy? Are we too posh? Or do we simply just not understand?

I have always known trash on the beaches and in the oceans is bad, my friends and family have always known it is bad, but do they really know why?  I could provide you with a list of the negative impacts of trash on beaches in the oceans but there is so much information out there about it just a quick search on Google and you will have all you need to know.

Instead I am going to focus on a more positive note – how are some people combatting the ocean trash problem. 80% of trash in the oceans comes from land, so what better place to start helping the oceans than removing trash from land. There are many initiatives out there to combat this but I would like to tell you about the Ocean Conservancy’s International Coastal Clean-Up Day which is held worldwide on the 3rd Saturday of every September.

Anybody from any country can participate in International Coastal Clean-Up Day, you can check on line where large events are taking place and join one, or sign up online and create your own event for an area you want to protect. In 2013, 648,015 volunteers picked up 12.3 million pounds of trash from the world’s coastlines. The 2014 International Coastal Clean-Up Day was held on the 20th September 2014 and The Reef-World Foundation joined forces with the Stairway Foundation Inc to celebrate. However due to an incoming typhoon our event was rearranged to 5th October 2014.

The belated event was held at Minolo Bay, Oriental Mindoro, Philippines and started with two presentations being given to local children and adults who had volunteered to help with the clean-up. They were provided with information about coastal ecosystems including coral reefs, seagrasses and mangroves as well as information about the impact of trash on these environments. They then broke off into groups to discuss how they could reduce the impact of trash on the marine environment and each group made a pledge to the environment. Grace Pelino, the Fisheries Officer then gave an informative presentation on the legislation in place to protect the marine environment. This educational outreach section highlighted the biggest lesson I have learned whilst working as an intern for The Reef-World Foundation; ‘you can’t stop a person doing something without educating them about its impacts and providing an alternative’.

Following on from the presentation, all the volunteers moved to a beach and mangrove area which was covered in trash. We spent just over 30 minutes at the location before running out of bags for the trash – however we did remove a whopping 450kgs in that short time. This really highlights the impact a small group of people can have in a small time. Although we didn’t ‘save the world’s oceans’ with our one clean-up event, we provided an education to local people about how they can help protect their surroundings and we made positive steps in combatting the ocean trash problem.

I would really like to encourage people to participate in events such as these; it was hard work but really good fun and rewarding. I appreciate one day of cleaning each year won’t solve the ocean trash problem but it will help. However you can help to protect the oceans every day of the year by collecting just a few items of trash from a beach or from the streets which will prevent them being blown into the sea.

Interestingly……did you know if each person on the planet could clean 0.05km2 of the ocean, it could be completely trash free!

How it all began!

Hello and howdy from the Philippines! This is day 4 of 60 (non-travelling) days. Today in the big-Zoox house we are doing some classroom learning about different areas of marine conservation. This is really useful so we can know what is going on out there in the big blue world. Some areas really made my ears perk up, while some made me think ‘eek – glad I don’t work in that sector’!

But I’m skipping ahead. Things I have learnt about the Philippines in my meagre 4 days (it really feels like longer, so I will pretend to be an authority on the subject). I think I will start a bit of a list as I read one before I came out which was surprising useful (especially that they honk their horns to let each other know that they are there and not because they are angry). So…

1. The people here like karaoke – who knew, right?! The 24 hour hiring of a karaoke machine is not only done on purpose, but constitutes a cause for celebration. I have heard more English music here than at home in the UK. 2. They like to get up early to get a start on the day before it gets too hot. This possibly explains the stages of my morning wake-up that goes through the following sequence from 6 am: cockerel, dog barking, building of next door property with hammer and nails, English music featuring artist of choice for the day e.g. Shania Twain or Ronan Keating. If I reach the latter and I am still in bed I am in trouble! 3. Storms with mega lightning are a daily occurrence, not a novelty like at home. I like to stay up and watch lightning storms at home but if I did that here – no sleep for Weenie! 4. The main mode of transport is a glorified motorbike and sidecar which is the best thing ever. I have started a game to try and find one with the most number of people on and I think the winner had 11, but the panel is debating whether a child counts as one point or half a point. 5. List to be continued.

So far, outside of the classroom we have done seagrass and reef monitoring and completed a mission (!) to go into town and find places and people by asking around. My inner-introvert was appalled at the prospect but not only did Brian (my fellow volunteer) and I succeed, but we found out just how friendly the local people are. Not only do they help when they can but they will also introduce themselves and walk you to your destination to make sure you get to where you want to go. (They also speak very good English and I think Brian finds it easier to understand them than my ‘more-tea-vicar’ English accent.) So go team Br-eenie or W-ian – the jury is still out, both sounds freaky. Let’s celebrate with a banana shake.

Let the learning begin

Upon graduating from Bangor University, I made what some of my friends classed as a ‘crazy move’. Rather than participating in a graduate scheme or looking for a job like everyone else, I told them I had applied for an internship with the Reef-World Foundation instead. I have always been fascinated by the marine environment, which was highlighted in my school year book as ‘most likely to be watching National Geographic’. But being around the oceans and learning about the species that live them is what makes me happy so when I was accepted on the internship I was delighted! Not only would I be leaving the dreary UK for the beautiful, tropical Philippines, but I was also going to be learning about grass-roots conservation and the processes involved. I couldn't think of a more perfect next-step after completing university and I would hopefully be able to put what I had learned from all those textbooks into action in order to benefit both local people and the marine environment. After a few flight delays, a rather scary night in Manila, a 2 hour bus journey and a 1 hour boat journey, I finally made it to Puerto Galera where I and my 2 backpacks and one wheelie case were greeted by Sam and Rebecca. It was so nice to see not one, but two smiling faces and I knew almost instantly I was going to have a great 6 months. I had a free weekend before I started work to adapt and learn about my surroundings including; how much to pay for a trike, how to kill a cockroach, lizards are your friends, ants are very partial to cereal and variable pressure in the shower – its better just to wash your hair in a bucket. I also learned that just a 5 minute walk from the apartment is Aninuan beach which is simply stunning and just a short swim out from the shore is a beautiful coral reef. I couldn't think of a more perfect place and I have visited the beach almost every day.

My first day at work was great, I was given the week to settle in, learn about the work carried out by Green Fins, read books and go out snorkelling. But by Wednesday I was given two tasks – fundraising and arranging a Beach Clean for International Coastal Clean-up day on the 20th September. I am now coming to the end of my second weeks work and already I have learned so much, ranging from shark conservation to stakeholder involvement and local outreach projects. I am really enjoying waking up each morning and going to ‘work’ and I feel I have learned more about real conservation in the past weeks than I ever did in two years at University. I can’t wait to see what else there is for me to learn over the next six months.

I would really enjoy your company on my internship journey over the next few months and hopefully I will be able to give you an insight into the world of real marine conservation and the new concepts I have learned. Life is the bubbles!

Marine memoirs - "The adventure of life is to learn..."

It’s been a while since I last wrote and so much has happened over the last few months.  The Green Fins annual assessment process in Puerto Galera has largely come to an end and I have just returned from Cebu where I had the amazing opportunity to represent The Reef-World Foundation and present the Green Fins approach to over 100 practitioners and decision makers from 17 countries at the Regional Forum on Solutions for Oceans, Coasts and Human Well-Being In Asia and the Pacific.

A couple of day’s fun diving with the beautiful Thresher sharks in Malapascua following the forum gave me chance to reflect on my time so far as an intern for Reef-World and what an amazing five months its been!  The light bulbs have been going off regularly since I arrived in the Philippines in January and puzzle pieces are fitting together in a more concrete manner everyday.   Its incredibly rewarding and encouraging when policies, conventions, targets etc. you have read about, been taught in lectures or spoken about with other conservationists all make sense in a real way.  By that I mean you understood them before but now you REALLY get them in the practical sense as well as the theoretical sense when you can see them at play in front of your very eyes.  It’s even more amazing when you can recognise that you and your fellow colleagues/volunteers are directly assisting numerous countries in reaching important conservation targets and implementing national strategic plans as part of international conventions.

Attending a meeting with the Department of Marine Parks Malaysia and Reef Check Malaysia in Kuala Lumpur a few months ago on the implementation, expansion and management of Green Fins in Malaysia allowed me to witness and discuss this first hand.  As a country that has signed the Convention of Biological Diversity (CBD); Malaysia has agreed to develop and implement their national biodiversity strategy and action plan in accordance with the Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011-2020 and the Aichi Biodiversity Targets that fall under the CBD.  Green Fins, as a conservation initiative that focuses on protecting and conserving coral reefs by implementing environmentally friendly guidelines for the diving and snorkelling industry, fits nicely into Malaysia’s (and other CBD members) national biodiversity strategy and action plan.  It fulfils many of the Aichi Biodiversity Targets for example Target 10 under Strategic Goal B:

Strategic Goal B: Reduce the direct pressures on biodiversity and promote sustainable use”

Target 10 By 2015, the multiple anthropogenic pressures on coral reefs, and other vulnerable ecosystems impacted by climate change or ocean acidification are minimized, so as to maintain their integrity and functioning.

Green Fins promotes sustainable use of the coral reefs and the diving/snorkelling industry by reducing the anthropogenic threats caused by this industry such as anchor damage, improper waste discharge, bad diver damage etc. in order to increase the resilience of coral reefs to widespread threats such as climate change.  I have been fortunate enough to have been allowed an insight into Green Fins at the grass roots level but also on a national and international level which has been eye opening.  At the meeting it was great to see the way in which national budget is assigned to help reach these targets and funding is being distributed to allow initiatives like Green Fins to be implemented and sustained in order to fulfil Strategic Plans for Biodiversity.

Green Fins is quite a specialised conservation approach but there are many different projects, initiatives and approaches in Asia and the Pacific (and the rest of the world!) that help each country to reach their targets for the CBD.  The forum in Cebu was a brilliant opportunity to learn about different ‘blue solutions’ that have been implemented to help countries in the region reach these targets. Other solutions included establishing MPA learning sites, integrated mangrove fishery farming systems, strategies on coastal erosion and restoration to preserve ecosystem biodiversity to name but a few.  Experiences were shared, successes were celebrated, challenges were discussed and lessons were learned.  A successful forum in my opinion!  During the forum the Green Fins initiative was invited to new locations and countries so hopefully we can assist more countries in their goal to safeguard marine biodiversity.  As the puzzle pieces fit together in my mind...the puzzle continues to expand, but that’s marine conservation for you…and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Fight or flight?

When I am working in the Philippines office, whenever I get the chance to go for a snorkel on the nearby beach, I jump at the chance. Nowadays I am mostly behind the laptop so these chances are getting fewer and far between, but I still try and make the effort to go for an evening swim after work to blow off the office cobwebs. #Yesterday, following the same route that I always swim running parallel to the shore for a mile I came across a familiar sight, a cuttlefish staying very still as I mash away overhead in my usual ungainly way. Where we are based, we are very blessed to have all sorts out there including Hairy and Painted Frogfish, Flamboyant Cuttlefish, Ornate Ghost Pipefish, Cockatoo Waspfish, Mimic Octopus and many other species that I don’t recognise including numerous Nudibrach species.  I stopped to have a closer look at this large common cuttlefish and ducked down to check it out. I was barely a metre down, about 3 meters from it, when it did something I have never witnessed. It zipped away like the UFO’s they are often referred to and vanished into the distance more than 30 odd metres away out of sight. That’s a long way to go and a lot of energy to spend, and something that doesn’t add up to the threat in my opinion. They normally allow you to come within a good metre of it and calmly stare back at you equally as intrigued. I laughed and swam on but it did made me think. Why……why run away?

As I came closer to my usual turnaround point to head back, I thought about it more and more and related to it in that, in life it is much easier to run away. When something doesn’t appeal or go the way you want it to, or at times if you get scared the easy thing to do is…run away. I work with people, from all countries, religious beliefs and backgrounds who are all involved in the environmental sector be it an NGO, a national government department or simply a local stakeholder and they all share the ability to demonstrate similar responses, as mankind usually does. For too many years, people have been running, running away from the obvious truth that we as a species are harming the environment we so critically depend on. Off the back of the latest IPCC report, I believe that something has change, in my lifetime.

There are always choices in life, and you can see this throughout the animal kingdom in the well document fight or flight response. A classic example of flight is if you sneak up on a cat and make a loud noise it is likely you won’t see if for the rest of the day. Similarly if the same cat is confronted by a dog, it is likely to arch its back and make itself big and scary and stand it’s ground – fight. I believe that to take flight is easier than to stand and fight. For too long politicians, the general public and many others in a position to act have been zipping away from the problem just like the mad cuttlefish I witnessed. I have been put in many positions in my life where it is easier to run but I know that this will not change anything and we NEED to start to make changes. Corals are disappearing, seas are rising in height and our weather systems are getting all out of whack. Time to arch our backs people and stand our ground. Put it like this, if we all stood our ground we probably wouldn’t be in the precarious environmental situation we are in today! I am not saying we need to all be anarchists, just that we need to talk about these issues such as fossil fuel use, the way we fish our oceans and the constant threat from pollution and litter and stop pretending they are not an issue anymore. Let’s not be scared Cuttlefish.

See you out on the reef!


Life of an intern - the journey begins...

After three years working in the corporate environment of a Pharma company based in London, I felt it was time to get back out into the wonderful wide world and once again focus on my passion – conserving our amazingly beautiful and diverse planet.  After struggling to find relevant work after completing my Masters in Biological Diversity I felt it was time to be responsible (ish).  This meant finding a job that at least had some relevance to what I studied at university during my undergrad degree (Biology) whilst continuing the hunt for work in the field I was interested in.  As enjoyable and interesting as it was working in the Pharma industry I knew it wasn’t truly for me.  Following an “its now or never!” moment I decided that I really had to go for it and put everything into chasing my dreams, it's never too late!  And so the journey begins, starting in the beautiful island of Mindoro, Philippines carrying out an internship with The Reef-World Foundation… My long-lived passion for the environment started as a young child when watching awe-inspiring documentaries.  The weird and wonderful life in our vast and largely unstudied oceans, orang-utans in Borneo, lions and cheetahs in the Serengeti, birds of paradise in New Guinea had me hooked!  I wanted to be the woman driving a Land Rover barefoot across the African bush looking and studying the multitudes of animals or spending days out at sea going on diving excursions to find a new species of fish or octopus, maybe not the part in front of the camera but definitely assisting with research/running of operations.  I was fascinated by the differences in ecosystems and life found within them and dreamt of a job travelling the world and protecting these amazing habitats that can be found both above and below the sea.

As a child most holidays were spent playing and exploring in some form of water mass.  Whether it was doing handstands with my sister in the sea or pool and seeing who could hold it the longest to taking every opportunity to go exploring and snorkelling in the ocean, making a mental note that the reef seemed to be far more beautiful last time we were in a regular holiday spot.  So it seemed natural that although I was interested in both terrestrial and marine conservation, I focused my MSc dissertation on the marine side of things.  In 2009 I spent a couple of months carrying out research on marine protected areas in Southern Leyte, Philippines for my final project.

To say I was excited to come back to the Philippines and carry out this internship would be an understatement.  I have thought about this country a lot over the last few years and dreamt about submerging myself in the beautiful water’s surrounding it.  To be back here working for such a brilliant organisation and with such passionate and determined people feels truly wonderful.

Five weeks in and I have already learnt a lot; I have been fortunate enough to attend a meeting with the Provincial Governmental in Batangas regarding further Green Fins activities in the local area; met inspiring people from various organisations and had my eyes opened to different ways of thinking by those around me.  I have always been very environmentally minded and was always keen to do ‘my bit’ no matter how small the outcome or impact and have encouraged others to do the same.  However my dedication and passion to educate others to play their part in protecting their environment, what ever scale this may be on; be it as a diver carrying out good ‘Green Fins’ diving practices, saying no to plastic bags, disposing of rubbish in the correct manner or choosing responsibly sourced fish has already increased massively.   I feel I am already walking around with a new set of eyes and picking up on things that I may not have done previously and looking at things in a more detailed way again.

I’d love for you to join me on this exciting journey over the next few months and hopefully I’ll be able to provide you with further insight into this field, some interesting snippets of information and a few laughs along the way.

Update from Vietnam

I am currently sitting on a train travelling south in Vietnam surrounded by many families, some eating some sleeping and there are lots children playing up and down the aisle. The train has wooden ceilings punctuated by glass light covers emitting a dull and fairly useless light. The coaches have wooden decorated door frames, stainless steel water drinking coolers by the door, and every seat (soft seat class!) is at a slightly different angle to the one next to it as a result of the stresses imposed on it from over the years from passengers and luggage and probably the odd animal.  I am surprised at the quietness of this Asian train (probably the cool a/c) and the general well-mannered behaviour of the kids. Not one’s usual location for writing a blog but then where is there in life?

Myself and Chloe have just finished a site visit to Nha Trang, where the Green Fins project is to be implemented this coming October 2013. Reef-World are working alongside our long running partner, UNEP under a Mangroves for the Future regional initiative which will see Green Fins being introduced under the governments of the Maldives and Viet Nam under a 2 year programme. Our aim is to lessen the impact from the ever growing marine tourism industry on coral reefs enabling them to become more resilient to wider more serious threats such as climate change and over harvesting activities. The full title is “Protecting Marine Ecosystems in MFF Countries Using the Green Fins Approach” and we have already gained a huge amount of support and interest.

Reef-World are the UNEP designated international coordinators of Green Fins (previously regional coordinators up until 2013 when it was introduced into the Maldives, not in SE Asia) which essentially means that we are the technical advisors who carry out training for the government departments to run the project independently to achieve their aims and personal targets. Reef-World have so far build a solid relationship with the Environmental Protection Agency in the Maldives under the  Ministry of Environment and the Institute of Oceanography under the Vietnam Academy of Science and Technology who will be overseeing Green Fins in their respective countries. Two very different countries with different priorities for Green Fins to tackle, which I am sure it will do successfully.

Myself and Chloe will be returning to these countries in October 2013 for the training and implementation phase of the project into a single location within both countries. Invariably this will be a testing time with many teething problems but this is what makes the project so unique is that it is not a one size fits all project and moulds to the needs of the country and more importantly the location upon which it is implemented.

So in the time it has taken me to recharge my laptop that ran out on the train, I am now at Saigon (Ho Chi Minh) International airport waiting for my flight (please be on time) to depart for Thailand for meeting with UNEP in Bangkok but more importantly, Khun Niphon and the team down at the Phuket Marine Biological Centre where it all started. Updates to follow…

Boarding on time, thank you Thai Air Asia!

A Story of Secrets


After some thought I have realised that I am a middle man (or woman) in life. As a marine biologist I digest scientifically sound recommendations, and as a conservationist I feed these suggestions to the people who can really make those changes. I do this by using every means available to me, and with the technologies available today there are many different ways to do this. We have websites, social networking and texting, we print posters, banners and spread environmental messages in their electronic forms to everyone who will take them, we meet with high level politicians, authoritative bodies and globally recognised environmental groups, we work directly with the people who live, work and eat from the oceans. With all these means of communication, funding really remains as our limiting factor but hey that’s life!

However, sometimes when I’m not being a marine biologist or conservationist, when I’m just plain old Chloe, I find I can lose my voice when it comes to passing on environmental messages as if they are my little secrets.

At the point when I’m sat in a busy restaurant and the table has been beautifully laid and the water already poured, I spot an endangered species available in one of the dishes on the menu. Do I approach the restaurant manager and explain the impact this has on the environment, that I will not support these activities and so will be leaving the restaurant in an attempt to make them realise that supporting the consumption of these species is not only destroying our seas but will also destroy their business? Or do I guiltily slink out of the restaurant with an apologetic smile and a speedy walk? Yes, I’m ashamed to say that sometimes I do the latter.

How about when I’m approached by someone asking for contributions to a mission against my environmental beliefs (e.g. anti-contraception groups). Do I take time to explain why I am against their mission and explain my own beliefs instead in an attempt to let them recognise how their advocacies are systematically destroying people’s quality of life? Or do I guiltily avoid eye contact and murmur something along the lines of not having any change on me? Yes, once again I have to admit that it sometimes remains as my secret and I choose to take the latter option again.

In my work I see people holding their own secrets close to them every day. A dive guide who speaks so beautifully about their passion for the marine environment and how it cripples them to see their divers damage the coral reefs, but who delivers an unimaginative, characterless and quite frankly boring dive briefing instead of taking the opportunity to inspire their divers to behave responsibly underwater. Or a fisherman who has always practiced sustainable fishing techniques passed down to him through generations of learning, who sits back and watches neighbouring fishermen greedily using mosquito nets in order to remove every living organism leaving nothing to reproduce and keep the fishing stocks healthy for the future. Or a daughter who has been taught at school about the impacts of marine debris who silently watches her grandfather absent mindedly flick his cigarette butt into the ocean. This information will remain her secret only.

Environmental degradation often stems from lack of knowledge, but sometimes I find that the knowledge is really there, but it just isn’t being used. I was once told by one of the local community members we work with in the Philippines, that “information is useless without the tools” and that I was giving them the tools they needed. I think it’s actually more apt to say “information is useless without the voice”.

There are a million reasons why these messages remain secrets; embarrassment or respect, or perhaps concerns over social discomfort or even personal safety. After writing this, I am going to make more of an effort to use my voice, in every capacity available to me. I don’t have to preach, or shout or order. I just have to gently pass on information in a friendly and fun manner and let people see that changing behaviour is necessary to preserve our natural environment; the lifeline we all rely so heavily on. I wonder if you could also do the same, to take the next opportunity you have to pass on the information you have to someone else, to find your voice.

Let’s follow someone who inspired change in the most incredible way who said that “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world”. Nelson Mandella

Our other office

When The Reef-World Foundation is not doing all the boring accounts and paperwork at it's HQ in Anglesey or in our temporary base in Bristol, we are of course working is SE Asia. Why are we here many ask, what about Africa or the Caribbean? This is a good question and our story of working in SE Asia has a lot to do with its history of how it evolved many tides ago from our founder Anne Miller. However there is another very important factor that has played its part in why Reef-World has deliberately not expanded to other parts of the world.

YouTube - The Coral Triangle - Protecting the Most Diverse Reefs on Earth.

SE Asia or the majority of it encompasses a critically important zone when it comes to biodiversity. The Coral Triangle. There is more life here (under the water) than anywhere else in the world. The biodiversity here is astonishing, don’t believe me then watch the video above from the Nature Conservancy explaining why they also work there. Forget rain forests, this place has more species than anywhere else on the planet and that is important for all of us globally. These vast quantities of species migrate, feed, die, breakdown and pass energy on around the globe helping to sustain life. Think of it like a fat mans larder full of lots of different types of sweets and candy, just with fish instead!

Last winter

Last winter


Just going through the ridiculous amount of files that I have my laptop from years of work and came across a picture that is actually quite recent sent to me from Anne Miller, the Founder of Reef-World but one that I had forgotten about. I thought you might want to see what happens in Angelsey when the snow gods decide to really dump it down over night!

This is the ol cabin that has hosted many a meeting and brainstorming session not to mention providing vitally needed accommodation from time to time. This picture is actually really hard to try and get my head around while I am sitting here in the Philippines at my desk at 15.30 on a particularity hot and sunny day in the mid 30's. We actually miss the seasons a lot here!

Anyway the real reason I wanted to post this image was to remind some of us about climate change and the fact that wherever I seem to go now in the world, the local residents are unsure of what the weather is going to bring them later that same year. In the last four years we have witnessed here, the weather in Asia has been getting more and more unpredictable. Farmers here in the Philippines used to be able say exactly to the week when they would harvest their rice or other crops. This is no longer the case. Typhoons have also been getting more and more unpredictable in time, duration and intensity (nothing new). The dual season of NE and SW (or wet and dry) no longer seems to be distinguishable from each other. This means that not only people but the forests, coral reefs, mangroves and seagrasses cannot adapt all the time to this sudden change.

Sadly this is a very common theme around the world today but there are many positive signs too of people acting to conserve their environment on a local scale and making a local difference which is what is so important in this day and age. Even during unusually high sea surface temperatures leading to coral bleaching in Thailand for example, there has been recorded evidence of many recruiting corals even after such a devastating period. This would not have been possible if there were additional threats and stresses upon them from man on a local scale. So even if it seems like there is no point when mother nature on a global scale is changing and shifting, you can still play your part locally which collectively makes all the difference.

Weed-eating fish

Weed-eating fish seen as key to coral reef preservation « Summit County Citizens Voice. I am often asked by people in the Philippines why it is we cannot or shouldn't eat the Parrot Fish and why it is such an important species. Many people, from Europe, America and Asia have even gone as far to argue with me saying that the Parrot Fish is actually contributing to the degradation of the corals as they ARE EATING THEM. True as this might seem all is natural and balanced in the marine system.

Please read this article to find out more why this colourful and remarkable fish is one that we should avoid putting on the BBQ but instead be putting in the media!

Why bother ?

I am often asked and even questioned by my friends and family back in Bristol, UK (you know who you are…) “Why on earth are you battling this uphill struggle?” Someone has even said which was very kind, “You are an educated guy, surely you know you are not going to change the world or make any real difference?” Maybe true… but here is how I look at it …

It’s about everyone pulling their weight. Sure, some celebrity driving a Toyota Prius isn’t going to reduce carbon emissions on a dramatic scale but surely people can see that if everyone in the States for instance was driving a Hybrid car, the carbon emissions would be lower! Actually this isn’t the greatest of examples as the majority of electricity is produced using fossil fuels but I hope you see my point.

So why Marine Conservation? There are many serious issues in the world today that affect millions of people on all sorts of different levels. Hunger, disease, war, persecution, poverty and even large scale natural disasters. Regardless of the serious plight of one person against another in any part of the world, there is one thing that all of mankind can safely say they share in common, and it’s not that we all go to toilet at least once a day! Yes, we all rely on the Earth we live on for our sustained existence. It’s a bit of a bummer but if we don’t look after the place we live on then we are in for a bit a tough ride.

The point is we are all dependent on our planet which differs to the other planets out there in our solar system in one major way. We have a hell of a lot of water, about 70% to be more accurate. The very land we live on, tropical rainforests, even tundra, are all important places habitats that we terrestrial species are very familiar with and have relied on for a long time. We know a lot about it and therefore we see the importance of preserving it. However, that other 70% is kinda important too.

If we manage to trash the seas through various methods and degrees of damage we are in for a hell of a bumpy time. The marine environment (including the coastlines) is responsible for absorbing more than half of the carbon in our atmosphere. Don’t just take my word for it:

Out of all the biological carbon captured in the world, over half (55%) is captured by marine living organisms. Some marine habitats are particularly good at this job. Mangroves, seagrass and saltmarshes might only cover 0.5% of the sea bed but account for more than 50% of all carbon storage in ocean sediments. (Nellemann et al., 2009)

It is also estimated from Woodroffe C.D. (2002) that “as of 2002, over half of the world’s population was estimated to being living within 60km of the coastal shoreline.’ This means as a race we are highly dependent upon our coasts for our livelihoods.

So I figure that this resource is of critical importance to our survival, plus I think it’s pretty awesome too ... sure one person bringing their own plastic bag to the supermarket doesn’t change a lot, but if we all did it …

I’ll end this little (ahem) blog with a well known story someone who is quite close to me, who has a big day coming up, (!) told me when I was much younger than I am now. It’s about two people walking on the beach when they come across thousands of Starfish washed up on the shore due to some reason, (I predicted from a large storm surge!). One of them picks up a Starfish and throws it back into the sea. The other person says “What you doing that for. You’re not going to make a difference, there are thousands” To which the other person replies …

“It does to him!”

Jump-starting my career in Marine Conservation

Reefs at Risk Revisited

After years of people pestering me to start documenting my work in blogs, I have finally built up the courage to sit down and begin telling my story. My first blog comes as I begin to digest the information I read today in the recently released “Reefs at Risk Revisited” report. A pretty disturbing read and something that adds to that bubble of guilt that grows inside me as I wonder if I’m just not doing enough to conserve our marine ecosystems. This is a pretty crazy notion considering I’ve dedicated the last 4 years to marine science and conservation! I have to admit that I can’t really be sure exactly what set me on a career of monitoring and promoting the protection our marine life. People who dedicate so much time to conservation usually have such magical beginnings to their journey. For me there was no life changing moment, no hugely inspirational talk by a wonderfully stimulating person or horrifying images of marine life suffering at the hands of human ignorance. It was quite simply a love of exploring the underwater world thrown in with a solid foundation of a deep respect for Science.

My introduction to the marine environment wasn’t the romantic, enlightening experience I would have liked for the sake of this blog. A 14 year old girl shoehorned into a membrane dry suit (which had certainly fitted her perfectly at the beginning of the season), trying desperately to find her sea legs on a corkscrewing boat, before making a flailing entry into the bubbling waters of the English Channel encouraged by a hearty shove from behind by her father. Surprisingly, I was hooked! Mix this with the ambitious determination of a teenager, and I progressed through the BSAC qualification ladder at lightening speed and was instructing by the age of 16.

Now for another admission, and one I dread the Dive Officer of my BSAC Club finding out, I’ve never really enjoyed diving for the sport or the adventure. It’s always presented to me an opportunity for discovery and education beginning with teaching people to dive in a Leisure Centre swimming pool in a small town in the middle of England. As much as I found instructing hugely rewarding, I knew that it wouldn’t keep me entertained forever.

The Arches at University of Newcastle Upon Tyne

So, in 2002 I began a Degree in Marine Biology at one of the best Universities for the subject in the UK; Newcastle Upon Tyne. Over the next three years a whole new world of weird and wonderful creatures, bizarre lifecycles and evolutionary tales and theories of threats with terrifyingly serious consequences opened up before me. It was a hard but extremely enjoyable slog and I achieved a first-class honours degree with an extra pat on the back when I was presented with the “Prize for the Graduate with Outstanding Performance”. I left Newcastle with an overwhelming notion that this was going to be my golden ticket to take on and explore the world.

Home in the Philippines

How the story then travels to me sitting in a little Filipino house writing this before preparing for another day of diving and training for my work with the local dive centres on the Green Fins Project, will most definitely take another blog or two to finish.

1st Reef-World blog

This is going to be a short one! This is a simple test to check that everything is in order ahead for our new blogs. Please come back in the near future to read various blogs from the Reef-World team and follow all our work on the Green Fins project as the Regional Coordinators.

This is linked to our website where we have loads more information on our previous work, how and where we operate and why we do the things we do. I have to read over them myself sometimes to remind me what an important role we play in marine conservation sometimes!

If you have any questions or would simply like to hear back from one of team then please e-mail us and we will get back to you providing there is electricity or the internet is working here in the Philippines.

See you again soon,