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

So...what do you do again?

So...what do you do again?

More often than not, returning home to the UK means telling friends and family what I've actually been doing for the last however many months. And when I tell them I've been working in marine conservation in the Philippines I usually get a soft “tut”, a roll of the eyes and a comment about how they wish they could swim with turtles for a living! Sadly that is not my job description…

 The view from Malapascua Island lighthouse

The view from Malapascua Island lighthouse

…My job is much, much better! And here's why:

  1. I work for a charity. (So instant feel good selflessness points.)

  2. I help a small team of exceptional individuals run an initiative of the United Nations Environment Programme. (So…I pretty much work for the UN!)

  3. I help the booming diving and snorkelling industry of South East Asia protect the environment rather than exploit it. (Helping save the World one tiny coral at a time)

  4. I have to travel…lots!

  5. I help bridge the communications gap between the private sector and the Government. (I help the people with problems connect with the people who can provide practical solutions.)

  6. I meet and work with passionate individuals from all over the World.

  7. I SCUBA dive!

  8. I’m constantly pushed to think and grow. (The nature of the job is almost obscenely dynamic and diverse!)

  9. And finally, I get to do all of this standing beside the 1 person in the World whom simultaneously makes me feel completely content, yet inspires me to achieve the impossible.

Don’t get me wrong. There are still difficult days. Hell, there are difficult months! There are seemingly endless hours stuck in front of a computer, questioning whether something is even possible!

But the difficulties and the frustrations never outweigh the positives. The take home feeling is always one of satisfaction...of achievement...of passion for my job - for my life!

And that is why I cannot wait for my internship with The Reef-World Foundation to end…and for my job with them to begin!

 The Reef-World Team, from left to right: Me, Chloe, JJ, Sam, Jula and Alan

The Reef-World Team, from left to right: Me, Chloe, JJ, Sam, Jula and Alan

From office to sea

From office to sea

One thing that I learnt from myself on past job experiences is that definitely I was not made to work on a fixed routine. I’ve lived it, appreciate all that I could gain from it, but also I have renounced to it! A very scary decision to make, but then the freedom of managing my own time was priceless! When I first came to the Philippines and saw myself on an office – for a second I thought, what have I done?? But certainly, as everything about this experience, it had a very special turn of events.

Being part of the RWF team has nothing monotonous about it. Just before I could freak out, I knew that I was going to be moving around a lot! Resulting into a new perception of what office work means. Suddenly the office time became so precious and effective; instead of being afraid of the routine I was actually excited to get things done, before the new journey began.

The journey led me to Malapascua Island, after leaving Dumaguete and taking a trike, a four hour ferry, taxi, sleep, taxi, eight hour bus, small boat, ferry and finally our legs in a very very very hot midday sun; I am here with the team. This small island has a very special vibe to it; definitely there is a before and after the Yolanda event, and you can feel it in the people. Something positive that I have noticed on the after Yolanda, is that they have come to the realization of how connected they are to nature, they saw how nature can destroy; but also realized how nature can nurture and help them thrive. I am looking forward to spend more time to immerse myself on their culture and their perceptions, using the Green Fins initiative as the way to do it.

It is these kind of life experiences what I was looking for before setting on to my new Filipino adventure. I wanted something that took me out of my comfort zone and transformed the perceptions and concepts of everything that I thought I already knew. From the basic concept of work, to the better understanding of human interaction with the nature; of humans and the ocean.

My journey towards a #LifeBeyondPlastic

My journey towards a #LifeBeyondPlastic

“Remember your intent.”

My journey towards a #LifeBeyondPlastic, or at least a life beyond single use plastic, started as a simple desire to inspire people to take part in the International Coastal Clean-up (ICC) event in September. With the driving force of a dynamic and zealous team this idea quickly became something much more. It evolved into an ideal strategy for the goals Jula and I needed to achieve. And before we knew it, we even had a mission statement:

"To use the ICC to raise public awareness of the impacts of plastic marine debris, and to encourage people to reduce their plastic waste by providing them with alternatives and up-cycling/recycling solutions."

We wanted to explore the topic of marine debris further, absorbing as much information as possible. And we found that for such an enormous and relevant global issue, public awareness is still staggeringly low.

“80% of marine debris is land based.”

“60-80% of marine debris is plastic.”

“Remote Operated Vehicles found a Coca-Cola can in the deepest part of the ocean, nearly 7miles deep, where no human has ever been!”

“The Great Pacific Garbage patch is larger than Texas.”

“There is six times more plastic than zooplankton within ocean gyres.”

Fish are dying.

Seabirds are dying.

People will die.

Whether it’s the result of direct ingestion or depleted fish stocks…

…People. Will. Die.

And still, as a majority, the public aren’t talking about it. We aren’t worrying about it. We aren’t trying to combat it! The UK introduced a 5p plastic bag tax, years behind the majority of Europe, and newspapers responded with headlines like “Chaos Looms!” How is that right?

“Remember your intent.”

You can see how a person (me) could begin to spiral into a deep, dark pit of despair when facing such a seemingly enormous and infinite problem…but that wouldn’t really help anyone would it? Fortunately my good friend Jula is always nearby to remind me to “Remember my intent.”

Yes, this problem is man-made. Yes, we created this problem. But doesn’t that make it our responsibility to fix it? We need to change. Fast! And that was the point of our campaign. Raise public awareness and inspire change. The world needs change on a global scale. But even one inspired person is a victory. Because that one person can inspire others. We can do this. We can set off a chain reaction to inspire the world!

So help the world. Help yourself! Take the steps to reduce the plastic in your life, and up-cycle that which you can’t. Inspire others to follow your life-saving example and live a #LifeBeyondPlastic.

My journey to a #LifeBeyondPlastic

My journey to a #LifeBeyondPlastic

For me this journey began a LONG time ago! It all started with a bucket of paint, paintbrushes and very consistent visits to the ocean. I’ve always found art as a very efficient way of communication: it has no language barriers, no boundaries on how to express your thoughts and feelings, it involves the use of all your senses, and even though the artist can guide the public, it can be interpreted in many different ways.

Being drawn to the sea on a very early age I found a need to express it and I found art as a way of letting it out to the world. That feeling just kept growing and growing and drawing me closer to where I am now. My art grew with the interest and scaled from the mere representation of my feelings to the reality that I was observing. I started realizing how unattached humans were to the oceans. Not realizing how our current lifestyles have a direct impact in the marine environment.

Reason why I decided to use my art to communicate the human impact on the oceans, focused on marine debris. On beach or dive trips I gathered what people thought of as rubbish and used it as part of my paintings.

Having as a result SEA|SEE, an environmentally aware art exhibition, aiming to represent how a small change in our consciousness can transform the world that we live in.

From that point on I knew that what I really wanted was to direct my professional career towards the protection of the marine ecosystems, combine my passions: design, art, and creativity with marine conservation. Which is where I am now, enjoying the company of the Reef-World team.

This amazing team gave me the opportunity of materializing that ideal combination. During this past month, with the launch of the #LifeBeyondPlastic campaign, Charlie and I had the chance to encourage change in people, educate them and educate us at the same time. Having a bigger reach and amazingly positive feedback.

Those positive responses and realizing that there is an increase in awareness, that people are willing to make a change; gives you strength to keep on doing what you love. I just hope that this experience is the first of many more to come! #fortheoceans

‘Balot Dagat’

‘Balot Dagat’

A wavy ocean, that is how the last week of placement felt inside me. Movements of waves rising from excitement and a feeling of fulfillment, and lowering when it came to the realization that another chapter have finished and we had to move on. When you leave a place and you feel that something tickles inside you, it reflects from where you lived the experience and how. I definitely poured my heart and soul during these weeks of placement, juggling between the role of a Green Fins assessor and a Reef-World intern. Both responsibilities that challenged me every single day, forcing to bring the best out of me.

I was warned of the amount of work we would face, but it was not until I was actually living the experience that I could clearly understand the dimensions of it. Fortunately I wasn’t doing this on my own, I had the chance to share all of these moments with a group of magical human beings. Sharing even viruses that sent us all, but two team members, into bed with fever and “dodgy” stomachs, as they would say. Our bodies pleading for a pause, a forced pause, to recover and come back up again. Not by chance I received an email with the phrase: ‘Be thankful when you’re tired and weary, because it means you’ve made a difference’.

Even though we were tired, at the end it was clear for all of us that we had made a difference. Those big waves of excitement came from the reactions and humble gratefulness from the people that were involved. Expressed in powerful handshakes and sincere smiles, making us realize the big impact that lies behind the Green Fins initiative. Parallel to the thrill and excitement came the goodbyes, testing the bonds created along the seven weeks of teamwork. I will be forever grateful with all of those who played part in this special chapter of my story.

Now back home in Dumaguete the waters are much calmer, waiting for the next tide to come in!

Eat. Sleep. Conserve. Repeat!

Eat. Sleep. Conserve. Repeat!

The last month has been a whirlwind of study, travel, marine conservation and unfortunately, sickness! I’ve had 4 different ailments, seen 7 different doctors and taken around 70 tablets. Through it all “It’s more fun in the Philippines” has definitely been my favourite catchphrase but despite the set backs I’m still managing to do what I love and that feels incredible.

 Alan and I braving various illnesses in Cebu

Alan and I braving various illnesses in Cebu

Before coming back out to the Philippines I was based at home for 6 months, spending some precious time with my family and desperately trying to scrape together the cash to pay off my last voluntary conservation role. I found myself working a mundane 9-6 job in a call centre and slowly losing all motivation to drag myself out of bed in the morning. I spent every day feeling unchallenged and uninterested in my own life!

Joining Reef World has felt like a renovation! I find myself challenged to improve myself every day. Whether it’s during a Global Marine Conservation module where you can’t sort your MMOs from your MNRs or a presentation where you have to explain global warming in a way that transcends language. This internship is not just strengthening my existing skills but introducing me to whole new areas of research and stakeholder interaction. Watching Sam (Project Manager) navigate meetings with Government officials or dive industry ambassadors in a way that considers the perspective of different groups whilst uniting them towards a common conservation goal is truly inspiring. I could never scribble enough notes to keep up with all this new knowledge but I’m certainly going to try!

 Enjoying a sunny day outside the Moalboal Municipal Hall with the ZEP volunteers Debby, Alex and Nicola

Enjoying a sunny day outside the Moalboal Municipal Hall with the ZEP volunteers Debby, Alex and Nicola

A Beautiful Dream

A Beautiful Dream

We can all relate to the sudden realization of those hidden messages life covers up, waiting there in silence until we wake up. Waking up capable to grasp the essence of the here and now, able to construct the thin, but strong lines that connect us all. What might have been just a phrase written on a shirt, suddenly gave sense to the experience this wonderful country has given to me in the past two and half months. ‘A beautiful dream’ suddenly became the theme of what this adventure has been all about.

Being now on our third week of placement, constructing new life stories, new relationships, understanding the meaning of marine conservation and making Alona Beach our new home; is what this dream is all about. When it comes to describe what I am doing here everyday, it can easily fit into the description of the “ideal” job I wanted so long ago. Cycling with my beloved ZEPs into town, enjoying the warm sun and the breeze, working alongside the sea and for the sea – it can be called a beautiful dream. With the good always come the bad, or in this case the challenging, sacrifices and hard work have become essential factors of this experience, maybe some of the most valuable ones.

I made a promise to myself of trying to promote a positive change on the people that surround me, trying to be always aware of making it happen even through the smallest of actions. But suddenly I have come to the realization that Green Fins is actually a channel through which I can fulfill that. Every time I hear myself and my teammates saying: “We are here to give you the tools, but you are the ones making the difference.” Passing on the knowledge and the passion towards marine conservation and, as mentioned before, constructing the thin lines that connect us all with the environment that surrounds us; fills my heart with happiness and gives me the strength to keep up with everything that has to be done.

I have always wanted to be part of the conservation movement because it signifies work equal to the creation of a positive change in people and so in the environment. We owe everything to our oceans. It is for this reason I can come back and say that until now I have been experiencing the most beautiful dream.

A 4-day travel from sunset to sunrise

A 4-day travel from sunset to sunrise

Waking up that 4th of June knowing that all of the ‘things-to-do’ on my list were checked and done, knowing that I had already seeing or spoken to every one that I was going to miss; was the moment I finally realized that I was about to start a life changing adventure. Even though I was, and am, completely committed to living every single moment with an open heart and savoring each second; my stomach was full of butterflies, the type that ensured me that this was meant for me at this moment in life.

5 planes, 7 cities and 3 continents in 4 days were the beginning. A long trip I would take knowing that it was going to be totally worth it in the end. Life takes you to places you would’ve never imagined before. If someone would have asked me 10 months ago, when I was starting to do my Master program, where would I end up doing my internship; not even in the wildest guess I would say: sitting in the bean bags of MCP (Marine Conservation Philippines) installations down in a small town called Zamboanguita. The only thing that I knew for sure was that my new path was going to be directed towards marine conservation, I knew that finally I was going to be working towards making a difference in an area that I am passionate about. That was the initial purpose of pursuing the Masters, to get me closer to conserving the ocean and everything around it; something that I have wanted to do for a long time.

One aspect that has been present through all the process of getting here, applying for the internship, living here; is how it has all flowed so naturally from the beginning. It just felt right.

It just kept getting better during my first office day, the 2 main words that were presented to me (as part of the Reef World mission statement) were: “inspire and empower”; from now on everything that I do has to reflect these words. But now I can see that these words are coming directly to me, and what all this experience entails. Just during the first three weeks of being here I’m already feeling completely inspired by the work that has been done, by the passion it has been done with and it’s starting to make me believe, even more, how I can contribute, empowering my own aptitudes.

Definitely, I am starting an adventure full of passion, showing me that work done from your heart transforms into a totally new concept of work. So many things are changing; ways of perceiving life, starting from where the sunrise and where the sun sets.  

Fiesta Feast

Fiesta Feast

I had only been back in the Philippines for 1 week when I was invited to a local’s house for a fiesta feast! And the brilliant fact is that isn’t even unusual. A large part of the reason I fell in love with the Philippines when I first visited last year was definitely the people. They are among the friendliest and most generous I have ever met throughout my travels.

When I arrived in Dumaguete on the 5th of June I jumped on the first available trike with my life on my back and followed Reef World Programmes Manager Chloe to my new home by the beach. Instantly my trike driver Tony was my tour guide. He lived in our village so it quickly became routine for him to pick Jula (Reef World Intern) and I up and drive us to our office in the city. After just 1 week we were invited to his house on June 13thfor a special fiesta to celebrate San Antonio de Padua’s Feast day.

Baboy that's a big pig!
Baboy that's a big pig!

A proper Filippino fiesta has to have lechon and this one was no exception. For those of you who don’t know, lechon is basically a hog roast. The bigger the better! Tony was a true Filipino host, constantly plying us with food. Delicacies included lechon (obviously), rice (obviously), pineapple, coconut milk, cake and lots of San Miguel. If we ever managed to make it halfway through a drink or a plate of food it was quickly refilled and we were never allowed to be full!

Tony's friend Jean teaches me some useful Visayan
Tony's friend Jean teaches me some useful Visayan

Most of the afternoon was spent at Tony’s house eating food, meeting his extended family and trying to learn as much of the local language, Visayan, as possible. Once Jula and I were suitably stuffed we ventured out into the local municipality, Sibulan, to visit the fiesta market and the San Antonio de Padua Church. I hadn’t considered it a highly populated municipality until that moment. Thousands of people were milling around the market stalls and flocking to the church to pay homage to San Antonio. The sheer volume of people touching Jesus’ statue in prayer had literally rubbed his legs raw!

 Green Fins Assessor Training

Green Fins Assessor Training

It was a wonderful day and a brilliant re-introduction to the Philippines. I cannot wait to hit the ground running as a Reef World Intern, sitting in on the Zoox Experience Programme and starting my Green Fins Assessor training.

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!