My internship with Reef-World

My internship with Reef-World

Having worked to implement Green Fins in dive centres I worked in, in Vietnam I was keen to get more involved with it. So, as I arrived in Philippines I came to meet the Reef-World team and was offered an internship.

 

At first the change from working by the beach in a pair of shorts to being back in an office felt so strange. I felt myself thinking ‘I’m hot, I should take my T-shirt off… Can I do that in an office?… hmm I guess not!’ Soon I was digging deep into research papers; conducting dive centre assessments and training; managing social media campaigns; researching sunscreens, greener cleaning recipes and septic tanks; having meetings with local government; writing news pieces and contributing my knowledge gained as a diving instructor. I even had the pleasure of visiting 3 municipal waste sites; I’ll never forget the look on Jula’s face when we were confronted with a wriggling sea of maggots!

A real highlight for me was to be invited to an expo in Xiamen, China to run a Green Fins Booth and be a guest speaker “Be the Best Diver – the Green Fins way”. The trip to China was an amazing experience; everyone was so lovely and welcoming to us. Event Co-ordinator Angeline, who had been one of my students in Vietnam, gave Charlie and I full VIP treatment. It was also lovely to see how our volunteer translators Emily and Wendy became passionate about Green Fins and gave us their full support. And… the food in Xiamen, so delicious; I’ll never forget that spicy hotpot!

 

Having previously experienced Green Fins from a dive centre perspective, I had never realised how much work goes on behind the scenes to run the programme successfully. Now at the end of my 6 months, having really experienced what Green Fins is and witnessing how it can truly make a difference, I am passionate about taking what I have learnt back to the industry as I return back to my life as a diving instructor.

It’s not all rubbish!

It’s not all rubbish!

Having the pleasure of visiting the rubbish dumps of Dumaguete and Dauin and seen how people hand sort through the rubbish to separate out recycles, I’m now compelled to make sure my rubbish is separated.

Over and over since being in the Philippines, I’ve hear people saying there’s no point separating rubbish out as it all get thrown in the same truck. It is true that it all gets collected in the truck together, but at the other end it is hand sorted. Certainly Dauin and Dumaguete anyway.

Visiting the Dauin dump wasn’t too smelly an affair as they don’t take bio-degradable wastes. It was sad however, to see the staff digging through each rubbish bag and pulling out recyclables by hand. The scrap buyer based at the dump, further hand sorts recyclables to sell in Cebu. The four staff get paid daily salary plus 50% of whatever they make from selling the recyclables (this 50% is also split between the four garbage truck operators). The remaining 50% goes to the Municipality.

Visiting Dumaguete dump was a much smellier experience, as organic waste is collected along with all the other wastes. The landfill recently caught fire and is still smoldering from plastics believed to still be burning deep in the pile. The smell of rotting and smoldering rubbish was a real nasal delight. Imagine having to work there.

Members of the BaCaSA (Balugo Candau-ay Scavengers Association) search for recyclables

Members of the BaCaSA (Balugo Candau-ay Scavengers Association) search for recyclables

Two staff (cover photo) are researching how to up-cycle plastics into other items to educate schools and Barangays how to reduce their landfill waste.

A small amount of bio-degradable waste is composted, if brought separately. 

Biodegradable waste from agriculture and the organic market is collected by MENRO and combined with manure from the slaughterhouse to make soil enhancer.

Biodegradable waste from agriculture and the organic market is collected by MENRO and combined with manure from the slaughterhouse to make soil enhancer.

Unfortunately the City’s separate collections for bio-degradable waste stopped as the trucks broke down and they don’t have the funds to fix them. Now everyone throws their rubbish in together, making the job of the scavengers harder, slower and stinkier.    

On returning to the office I felt we could do more to help. Recycles were already separated out, but waste was still being generated with non-recyclable and food waste. A third bin and a ‘chat’ with the gardener solved this, as he was happy to take raw bio-degradable waste and he could sell recyclables if we separated them. Well done Charlie for getting the message across with basic Vasayan and hand gestures.

Simple: three bins – recycles, bio-degradable and landfill – sorted!

Separating your waste is as easy as 1 - 2 - 3 bins

Separating your waste is as easy as 1 - 2 - 3 bins

Even if all your waste is collected by the same truck, separating it makes the job of the scavengers much easier and efficient and bio-degradable waste can be composted instead of landfilled.

Now our rubbish is sorted and disposed responsibly; I’m working my way through the products used in the office and kitchen, to swap them all for environmentally friendly ones, such as the Clean and Green recipes. If we can use them, so can the dive shops…

Next it’s time to hit the beach: Alona Beach - Green Fins Assessment time, starting Monday...

A year in the reef world

A year in the reef world

 

For how long have you been in the Philippines? I then start counting and realizing that my fingers are not enough anymore; a year has gone past. Twelve months in this beautiful paradise. Life is certainly not easy here, everything requires a bit more effort: from doing laundry, getting to places (!), running errands, everything requires a little bit more from you. Talking Filipino doesn’t only mean learning Visayan; it means learning the special way of saying things - even in English, the face gestures, understanding how their mind works in order to be understood. Life here is a constant adaptation to the people and their very cheerful way of being.

No day is an ordinary day. I can be woken up by a group of goats shouting by my window, trying to sleep with a chorus of frogs singing to the moon or a group of Filipinos singing karaoke! Certainly this story that I am telling is not new for those living outside their comfort zones in countries with very different cultures, so far away from home. We all have to cope with the differences, and particularities of the country we chose to live in. But another factor that we all share in common is the reason or reasons that keeps us here; it might be a job, a conviction, a group of people, or in my case, all of the above!

Although being challenged every day is a constant, it is one of the things that I really appreciate. It just forces me to keep strong and realize that I can do it, that the process of adaptation can be as easy or difficult as you want it to be. Also, being here has showed me how irrelevant the concept of time is; at the end it is more important what you do with the time given. And that is exactly what I most treasure in this on going adventure; the Reef-World team has taken my abilities and not only made me realize, in the most humble way, that they are there; but also make me capable of doing things that I never thought of. In just twelve months they have helped me to grow professionally and personally, helping me to reach new levels of accomplishments in my life. For that and everything else, I will be forever grateful.

 

 

 

My first week...

My first week...

My start was quite an emotional one, as I had started to grow roots in Panglao and had therefore left my new friends behind. Although Panglao and Dumaguete are not far, I couldn’t go directly as I was travelling with my motorbike. I had to travel via Cebu Island and due to mis-information; my journey became a 12hr one! There is however, something satisfying about being able to move house with all your belongings by motorbike.  But, at last I arrived at the meeting point and met Alan, who guided me home.

In 2010, I quit my office job to do masters, which lead on to moving to Vietnam and becoming a dive instructor. I continued this job, working as a freelance instructor on Alona Beach, Bohol, Philippines. Returning to an office based environment 6 years later and having to keep my clothes on all day, was a strange feeling. I still feels strange.

My first week has been mostly absorbing as much information as possible. As I said to the head of Arlene, Coastal and Resources Management.

“Yesterday, was my first day, so I’m not speaking much. Next time we meet I’ll speak more”

On Thursday we conducted a dive centre assessment. One of the first in the Dauin area. It was great to see how our team was so warmly welcomed and how open the dive centre staff were with us. Seeing how the assessment was conducted and how the feedback was well received, gave me confidence that the Green Fins process can really work to help dive centres improve their environmental performance. 

Same Reef-World, different image!

Same Reef-World, different image!

As some of you may have noticed, especially those who have been working with us since the beginning, our brand, website and our beloved logo/icon didn’t change one iota since first designed in 2004. This is not for lack of wanting but rather where this activity came on the list of priorities. Reef-World and the way we operate is very lean and is about spending our time and raised funds to “inspire and empower” key champions such as a respected member of the government or a village elder who is able to bring about change while keeping our overheads low. Our brand recognition has not mattered; it’s been about putting people on the ground where it matters with the tools to empower people to act in conserving and sustainably developing coastal resources, particularly coral reefs and related ecosystems. We do not go for the same approach as other organisations often do where their logo and brand is always very obvious.
 

 

 
 

However, there comes a point when we must at least look like the modern, efficient and effective marine conservation charity that we are and so we have updated our image. A huge part of this is down to the hard work of our new Project Coordinator, Jula, who has been overseeing the Design and Communication aspect of our work since she joined us as an intern in June 2015. This has of course been supported by not only the other staff and the Trustees who oversee the charity but also Anne, the founder of Reef-World who has whole heartily supported the upgrade and provided some very helpful input along the way, so thank you to her and the rest of the team.

I am sure you will all agree, the end result of the new brand and website look great and even better now that we have the blog integrated into the site. Here we will announce news, updates on our programmes of work, successes and insights from our team as they work around the world. We have our Instagram and Twitter also here for easy updates and you can also use the site if you want to Donate directly. 

We would appreciate all feedback, positive and negative so please get in touch.

JJ
Operations Manager

Many more colours than 'just green'

Many more colours than 'just green'

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As time passes by Green Fins keep unveiling its many colours to me; just like a prism, refracting light to those who want to receive it. I can go back in time and remember the way Chloë explained her life adventure with Green Fins, I could see in her eyes the passion behind it and how it easily got in her heart. That was not the only time I perceived this, as I immersed myself within the network and more people came in my way, I could identify that same shimmer in their eyes. It became a constant.

I can proudly say that I am now part of the network of conservationists empowered by the strength and diversity of the initiative. With every experience, a new colour is displayed. Initially working with the ‘sea guardians’, all those people within the diving community who live their lives in direct contact with the sea, the ones that most evidently need healthy oceans. This group of people empowered me and showed me how important is to clearly listen and understand their troubles/ needs in order to make our daily job more valuable.

This year, a new colour emerged. We had the chance to participate in ICRI’s International Tropical Marine Ecosystem Management Symposium, ITMEMS 5. We were there, maybe the youngest group amongst the crowd, ready to impart one of the sessions. It was a big personal challenge, we had a crowd of professionals in marine conservation from all over the world ready to listen what we had to say.

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Fortunately, everything was a success and again it was evident how in just one day the Green Fins philosophy went directly into their hearts. Many of the participants left ready to implement the materials on their locations, talk to national authorities, do whatever needed to get Green Fins to their countries and start working towards a change.

This experience goes beyond the concepts of ‘Bottom-up | Top-down’, it entails human relations, and most importantly human relations with the marine environment. As you dive into the Green Fins initiative, you notice that it is not only ‘greener’ on the other side.

Designing marine conservation

Designing marine conservation

  During my Master’s program I was the subject of constant questioning on how my previous professional development, in design and communications, and my current chosen program, of Sustainable Natural Resource Management, could interact with each other. During the ‘weak’ days it really made me question if I was making the right decision, but certainly, for the majority of times, it just reinforced the reason why I was there.

What took me into this new endeavour was the urge to make a difference. I wanted to develop a career that provided a meaning and an impact. This was just a platform that could help me combine my aptitudes and interests; it didn’t matter if people understood how. Every time they questioned me it just made it clearer for me. I knew that design, communications and creative thinking have a big reach, whether it made “sense” or not.

Determined to transform my work into something that means more, I made the decision. And so, I eventually stumbled upon a Charity that needed me as much as I needed them. That was of course Reef-World, offering me the job that perfectly embodied everything I tried to explain back in UPEACE.

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Life brought me to this fabulous group of professionals that challenge me every single day to become better. And is now my quest, as an official staff member of the team, to create that demand for creative thinking in the niche of conservation whilst bringing that extra asset to the team.

About a year ago, doing research, I stumbled upon a very interesting and assertive article under the title “Five Skills Designers Have That Global Development Needs”. I immediately felt identified, and now I can see the opportunities Reef-World is giving me to further develop my skills. Reef-World works with an amazing platform for empowerment, the Green Fins initiative. It benefits all of those involved, from operations, implementation and the actual network.

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From my perspective I can see how it gives me the opportunity to get close to the people who make it real, understanding them and their needs. The more I immerse myself into the Green Fins initiative, the more I look towards what can be done and improved.

“The key to better policy, better products, and better public services is rooted in understanding of the key players and what motivates them.”

At the same time, by understanding the people, I get the opportunity to create capacity, empowering these people to make a difference and by giving access to tools that will improve their lives. It is very comforting to realize that by enhancing my own skills, I am at the same time improving someone else’s life and while at the same time having a positive impact on the environment.

This experience just re assures that thinking outside the box, being frowned upon, is actually positive when you know you are following your true instincts and beliefs. I now have a big challenge in front of me, looking forward to see how it changes me and those around me.

Malapascua, then and now

Malapascua, then and now

In 2014, I experienced the magic of Malapascua for the first time. I embarked on the 20-hour journey from Southern Leyte with my new life-long friend in hand and a sense of freedom blowing through my hair.

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A bus, an overnight ferry and another bus later, however, I arrived in Maya feeling rather more exhausted and a lot less poetic! By that point, haggling a supposedly “fixed price” ferry to our final destination felt as if Dory was holding me out of the water, bloated belly first, for a flock of seagulls to attack! But once we negotiated our way through the "seagulls" and onto the ferry for an…almost reasonable price, the view upon approach to Malapascua Island made it all worthwhile. After a good night’s rest I was in full dive tourist mode; squeezing in as many dives as possible, overflowing my hard drive with photo after photo of captivating cuttlefish and new nudibranch species. My friends and I wanted to see it all: the giant frogfish, the mating mandarin fish and, of course, the infamous thresher sharks. We were not disappointed! We were lucky enough to dive with a huge number of species that we had never seen before. Species that we had spent months teaching about in Southern Leyte but had never actually seen! It was a wonderful experience and we left the island feeling extremely fortunate.

Thresher shark

Thresher shark

Almost a year later to the day, in 2015, I was given the amazing opportunity to return to Malapascua with Reef-World. It was another incredible trip but some of the changes I noticed in my year away left me feeling anxious about this charismatic island’s future. The magic was most certainly still there: the people were still smiling from ear to ear and the threshers were still as ethereal as ever. But the eyes behind those smiles looked a little strained and the glow of the threshers was being masked by more and more bubbles.

Trash separation on Malapascua Island

Trash separation on Malapascua Island

As an increasing number of tourists visit the tiny, 1km-wide island, pressure begins to mount and the cracks begin to show. Divers descend upon reefs, kicking corals and poking shrimp, and beaches become flooded with trash. Local stakeholders are doing whatever they can to hold back the tide but they are struggling with a load too heavy to bear alone. They need your help.

It is your responsibility to be an environmentally friendly tourist and to choose sustainable tourism options.

Choose the dive centre that doesn’t throw its anchor on coral. Choose the hotel that doesn’t provide you with single-use plastic bottles. Ask your guides and fellow tourists not to touch or harass marine life. And dispose of your waste properly.

Create the demand for sustainable tourism and its prevalence in the industry will grow. Not only will you protect the beautiful environments you have travelled across oceans to see, but you will also give the people you meet there a more secure future.

Sunset on Malapascua Island

Sunset on Malapascua Island