Wednesday, 18 July 2012
No.29 So long Coral Cay with your evil leader but wonderful staff…
Sitting in Cebu airport, the realisation that I will be back on UK soil in 3 days is slowly becoming more real. This time next week, I will most likely be sat at my computer editing the footage I shot whilst on base with Coral Cay Conservation. Hmmm…time certainly does fly…. and now with a few minutes on my hands I’ve somehow found myself wearing my “reflective hat”…and looking pretty swarf even if I do say so myself….but anyway back to the first train…Coral Cay…how did it all pan out?
Well one thing for sure is that I learnt an AWFUL lot. And while the most important lesson I learnt was how to deal with and work with a fire breathing Expedition Leader that doesn’t know how to work with women and is perhaps the most sexist, patronising and rude man I have ever worked with…..there were also a few more inspiring lessons in the mix too. My marine knowledge grew, what with having Napantoa house reef (perhaps the most beautiful reef I shall ever see) right on my doorstep, but also my understanding of Marine Protected Areas- their significance and their establishment flourished during my time at Coral Cay.
And while I didn’t quite learn all that the volunteers do – coral, fish and invert ID, survey techniques, I learnt something even better. For being responsible for filming what it is exactly that Coral Cay do (behind the scenes as it were), I was allowed to delve deeper into the community and to really witness what great things they actually do, do. However the problem I fear is that I was an exception. I don’t believe that volunteers joining expedition get to see all that Coral Cay do, and if I’m honest it is these things that the volunteers fail to see that are the most inspiring. Here’s hoping this video I’m soon to put together will help shed some light on the secret saviours of coral cay. Fingers crossed mon frères, fingers crossed.
For an NGO that appears (in my opinion) to sell itself on science and community commitment Coral Cay is quite the mixed bag. I’m not saying they don’t do these things, because evidently they do, its just from my experience many of the volunteers seem to be seduced by the science but unfortunately disappointed by the lack of surveys they actually get to carry out. I doubt that this is true for every volunteer, rather I think it depends on when volunteers arrive and when the next batch of volunteers descend on base, for it is this high turn over of volunteers that take away from the surveying. All volunteers must be qualified up to PADI Advanced Open Water before they start Coral Cays intensive Science Development Course. A great course, that will broaden the knowledge of even the most keen underwater naturalist. It is the knowledge volunteers learn on this course, that I consider to be one of the greatest things volunteers take away from expedition – the ability to confidentially identify all kinds of corals, invertebrates and fish. The programme is tough as there is a lot to learn, and it is essential that volunteers reach a high level of diving and species identification in order to carry out survey techniques. And there lies the problem. Volunteers joining expedition for a short period, often only just manage to learn the survey techniques before they have to go home, whilst long term volunteers, who have more time, are often hindered from carrying out surveys as they are roped into training up new volunteers that arrive on base…and suddenly you realise that everyone is working hard towards conducting surveys, but no one is in actually carrying out any surveys!
OK. So in truth volunteers do conduct surveys (they must do) because since Coral Cay first came to the Philippines in 2002 (CCC’s longest running base) they have managed to survey the whole of Sogod Bay, which is damn right pretty impressive. Sogod Bay is Southern Leyte’s golden gem – a beautiful bay, rich in marine biodiversity. Whale Sharks are seen here annually and if you’re lucky you can see Whales and Dolphins, usually sheltering themselves in the bay from storms or rough seas. But the true gems of Sogod bay are the corals and the superb marine life that go with them. The coral reefs are simply amazing – Napantao, Coral Cays house reef is hands down the most beautiful reef I have ever seen. Aside from how beautiful they are, whats really important is just how valuable they are to local people. They provide livelihoods, mainly for local fishermen, but also more recently for diving tourism. This is the reason why it is essential that these reefs are protected. Q Coral Cay Conservation and their mission statement:
‘ Providing resources to help sustain livelihoods & alleviate poverty through the protection, restoration & management of coral reefs & tropical forests. ’
Coral Cay prides itself in working with individuals from all levels of the community. Whether it be teaching children in the local school, leasing with Barangay Captains (essentially the village mayor) or working with the Provincial Government. These relationships are key to the success of their work.
The information Coral Cay obtains through their surveying helps local baranagays (villages) establish Marine Protected Areas (MAPs), areas of the sea protected from over fishing and coral damage. They used to be referred to as Fish sanctuaries, but as Dags, the local Community Liason Officer at CCC quite rightly pointed out, Fish sanctuaries imply that only the fish need protecting, Marine Protected Areas on the other hand protect the whole ecosystem – from the substrate to the corals to the fish. This is fundamental, as with every habitat – it’s the success of the entire ecosystem that creates sustainability, rather than the success of one species.
Fishermen are not allowed to fish within the MPAs and the local Bantay Dagat (guardians of the sea) are responsible for making sure no illegal fishing happens. This may seem like local fishermen are being denied fish, but MPAs are actually doing the opposite. The purpose of MPA is to protect the fish, so that they can grow. Bigger, less stressed fish reproduce more and more reproduction obviously means more fish. The idea is that the offspring of the fish within the MPA will move out and into areas where fishermen can fish. The MPA is effectively making sure fishing in these areas is sustainable. Without the presence of an MPA, these areas would quickly be fished out, thus jeopardising the potential of the seas for future generations.
Unfortunately the concept of MPAs doesn’t always sit well with local people, and often even when villages do go ahead with establishing MPAs, its often the case that not everybody in the community wants the MPA. However the success realised by communities who do decide to establish MPAs is incredible. Fishermen really do see the difference in the number of fish available. For Dags, the community liaison officer at CCC this is one of the most rewarding parts of his job. However the problem, according to him, is that often these effects aren’t realised for quite a few years, which makes it difficult to convince people of the long term bennifits of MPAs rather than the short term bennifits of overfishing.
And here’s the clincher. This is where the saviours of Coral Cay work their magic. The saviours being the people that work as part of the community day in day out. For me this is Dags, the local Community Liaison Officer and Heather the Education Officer. Their passion and enthusiasm is the silver lining of Coral Cay. This is where Coral Cay becomes magical.
Both Dags and Heathers role focuses on communicating with the local people, the provincial government and everyone in between. They are responsible for encouraging, educating and helping people understand their ecosystems and how best to protect it. Understanding and working with local people is the key to successfully protecting Philippine Reefs. These reefs don’t belong to foreigners, and while foreign volunteers and staff bring passion and willingness as well as the much needed man power to help protect these habitats, we can’t forget that ultimately they belong to the local people here. This is why its so great to see local people being employed by Coral Cay. They are essential to Coral Cays success in protecting Coral Reefs.
Almost all staff volunteering for Coral Cay come from a scientific background - but what unites them is their passion to share this knowledge with each other and the people here in the Philippines. As long as Coral Cay keeps sharing this knowledge through its commitment to the community and it’s counter part scheme* then hopefully Philippine Reefs will continue to be protected.
*CCC’s counter part scheme that offers individuals living in the Philippines the opportunity to join expedition to learn to dive, complete Science development training so that they can then apply these skills to their work and to future conservation efforts in the Philippines. If you would like to find out more about CCC’s counter part scheme then you can contact them through their website: http://www.coralcay.org/contact/