Less than 24 hours after I had landed in Cebu I was heading to one of the CCEF’s monitoring and rehabilitation sites. A taxi, a bus ride, a ferry, a jeepney, another ferry and a tricycle ride later I arrived in the municipality of Lorena on the southern island of Siquijor.
The island province of Siquijor contains no less than 17 marine protected areas (MPA) all of which are managed by the local community with the help of CCEF, both of whose members greeted me enthusiastically upon my arrival. When Typhoon Haiyan/Yolanda hit, much of the island’s 12.3 km2 of coral reef was heavily damaged. The local community and CCEF have been working hard to study, stabilise and rehabilitate the damaged reefs. It was to help with these efforts that I had made my way to the island so quickly, diving straight into the proverbial deep end (though the reefs all sit in reasonably shallow water!)
We set to work in the morning with a short briefing and a quick dive so that I could see the extent of damage myself. Even with so much damage the site of my first dive in the Philippines was full of marine plant and animal life – including my first encounter with a sea snake!It’s astounding to think how the reef must have looked in its prime before the typhoon. Our work for this type of coral reef rehabilitation is divided into two main parts. The first dives I took part in were used to secure a base on suitable sites as a foundation for coral transplantation and growth. From previous CCEF studies a mat/netting material has been selected that has been shown to be non-toxic to corals and the marine environment, securable and successful in supporting coral growth. Other factors were also taken into account such as access through the material to enable the movement of marine fauna and the suppression of algal growth.
Once these nets were secured in place the coral transplantations could begin. All coral fragments are chosen from the local site. One diver in each group was designated as the ‘coral finder’, in this instance they had to travel quite far to source enough fragments for each mat. Coral fragments are chosen using a number of variables including being of a size that allows attachment to the nets, having a minimum proportion of living coral upon the fragment and already being detached from the reef. This is to ensure good growth and resilience. The fragments are then attached to the mats and photo documentation taken to allow for proper monitoring and evaluation.
All in all this first experience with the CCEF served as a great introduction to the Philippines, her people and her natural treasures. To be doing my part for conservation and natural resource management has always fuelled me and my first week working in the Philippines has proven to be both educational and enjoyable.