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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!


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!

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!”

How it all began...


Similarly to Chloe Hunt, the other Manager of The Reef-World Foundation, I too have been harassed for not blogging my marine conservation activities and travels over the past four years. No excuse really but lets not dwell on the past and look to the future, because that's what it's all about, the future... So why am I currently in the Philippines surrounded by SCUBA diving shops and beautiful, unique and extremely important marine life? Well I guess it started from those early surfing trips in the summer down to Cornwall, England with my family when I was a child. I spent hours in the rock pools and in the sea wondering how on earth animals could have adapted such a cold, salty environment.

I was once asked on a open day at a University in the UK by a Geordie tea lady why I  wanted to study marine biology for 3 years. I quite simply said that I wanted to learn more about the environment that seems so bloody huge, surrounding the UK, and yet we know so little about it. She smiled and said something like "I see." Turned out it wasn't a tea lady but the Head of Admissions for the University to whom I would soon be applying ... Woops, but obviously did something right as I was called on the day I received my A-Level results by the same 'tea lady' who wanted to know if I was still interested in coming to Newcastle Upon Tyne University!

Providing feedback

Anyway so after a fun and what seemed like only a basic introduction the the vast amount of sea water at Newcastle, I then saved up some cash to go abroad with Chloe Hunt to gain some of that all important experience for getting a job in my chosen degree. It involved a trip to Borneo in 2007 followed by two placements in the Philippines, before heading to Indonesia to look for some work then finally (like a true backpacker) heading to Thailand a year later for a last chance saloon look for experience /work. It paid off...

Scuba Diving

After a visit to the Phuket Marine Biological Centre (PMBC), we were introduced to Khun Niphon, a highly respected coral reef specialist who then introduced us to Green Fins.

" Ah... I see, like Green Fingers but for diving" we said. We then decided that it was such a worthwhile project that we decided to stay, and here we are 3 years later working on the project as Regional Coordinators endorsed by UNEP, who initiated the project in 2004, working alongside governmental departments in Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia and now the Philippines helping them to set up Green Fins in their respective countries.

It was these early days with Green Fins that we were introduced to Anne Miller, the Founder and Director of the The Reef-World Foundation, and our relationship has since grown very fast. Reef-World has been supporting the PMBC for over 10 years and Anne quickly took us under her wing. We learned a lot fast and we were thoroughly excited about what we could bring to the project with Reef-World support.

We are still with Reef-World and have finally set up this blog that has been talked about over way too many sunset chats with local beverages in various countries including Wales, where the HQ of Reef-World is based.

So I hope you now understand our (well mine a bit more at least) background a little better and this helps make more sense of where we are coming from. We will from time to time post various stories here and look forward to hearing any comments or remarks you might have.


If you want to read more about The Reef-World Foundation then check out our website, follow our Tweets,  join our Facebook page... you get the picture.

See you around,