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corals

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

‘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!

Tropical Tioman...the Green Fins way

I write this instalment of my blog from the stunning island of Tioman.  Seven weeks into my internship I had settled well into life in the Philippines when to my surprise and delight I was asked to assist Chloe on a Green Fins Capacity Development program on Pulau Tioman; an island off the East coast of Malaysia.  A brilliant opportunity to experience and work on the Green Fins project from another angle and gain a wealth of experience and skills in a country I had never been to before.  As if carrying out this internship in the Philippines wasn’t amazing enough… how could I say no!

Travelling to Tioman was a bit of a trek involving trikes, taxis, boats, buses and a plane ride - not in that order.  The journey took two days with stop over’s in Kuala Lumpur and Mersing as there were no flights running to the island.  On the plus side the 6 hour bus ride from KL to Mersing allowed me to see more of Malaysia…with its many palm oil plantations that stretch on as far as the eye can see; but also some lush, green rainforests.  A bumpy ferry crossing from Mersing to Tioman and we were here.  We have very kindly been housed in grounds of the Department of Marine Park Malaysia (DMPM) whom we are working with on the island.   Within the first day we met some of our very interesting neighbours - some very bold long-tailed macaques that live in the rainforest behind us (they don’t get the name ‘cheeky monkey’ for no reason!), monitor lizards and LOTS of cats!  The cats seem to love people who are not so keen on them…namely Chloe and I, who seem to have unwillingly  ‘adopted’ a couple that reside around DMPM.

So far we have had the chance to have some inspiring and eye-opening conversations with some amazing guys from Reef Check Malaysia who we are collaborating with and who will be helping to continue the Green Fins work here on the island along with some great guys from DMPM.  It is brilliant to see the positive influence Green Fins has had from when it was first implemented on the island in 2009 by Chloe and JJ.  Of course there is still work to be done but the dive centres have welcomed Green Fins back with open arms and have been incredibly helpful and accommodating.  Most of those assessed in 2009 have maintained the positive changes they made as a result of their Green Fins Assessment last time around which is a true testament to the benefits and success of the project.

The reefs around Tioman that I have visited are pretty healthy and resilient but it is clear to see that these valuable ecosystems are under pressure from tourism and they need to be protected from the impact we as divers and snorkelers have on them as well as other human impacts such as pollution caused from rubbish/run off.  The number of snorkelers on the island is vast and although it is not yet high season here on Tioman there are a good number of divers around as well.   Seeing a fin kick destroy live coral that has been growing for hundreds of years is heart breaking.  Broken and dead coral is not what divers come here to see so any opportunity to create awareness about the importance of these reefs and how to mitigate the threats we bring to them as divers/snorkelers is a very good thing for all involved.  Green Fins has an important role to play here and with the help of the Department of Marine Park Malaysia and Reef Check I believe further successes will result.  DMPM have already installed and continue to maintain (with the help of the dive centres) numerous mooring buoys at the local dive sites and along the shore in the marine park so it is clear to see that those based on the island do have a sense of responsibility and appreciation of how special their marine environment is here.

I must admit that another reason I was excited to come to Malaysia was for the food.  Chloe and I have had local food wherever possible including roti canai for breakfast and dinner (not in the same day although I would have happily!) with very sweet pulled tea or very sweet coffee.  We have also had the opportunity to attend two Malay wedding celebrations with some very kind and hospitable locals.  You never know what surprises will arise when working with Green Fins!

We have been on Tioman for ten days now and sadly we are coming to the end of what has been a successful trip.  I am very thankful to have been given this opportunity to support the Green Fins project here in Malaysia.  Some of the working days have been long and tiring in the heat and humidity but the people you meet, things you learn and experience you get is incredibly rewarding and fun!  Farewell Tioman, until next time...

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!