“The joy of life comes from our encounters with new experiences, and hence there is no greater joy than to have an endlessly changing horizon for each day to have a new and different sun.” –Christopher McCandless
The past day we were on a field trip to Candelaria, where we snorkeled an effective MPA (marine protected area), walked through a mangrove nursery, and stopped to visit a sea cucumber breeding center. The photos were taken at the sea cucumber center and I am holding almost full grown sea cucumber as well as red algae. The sea cucumbers take 8 months to grow from eggs to adults. They feed on dead algae and are exported for food in Asian markets. The red algae, I am holding is also sold as food and can be used for the production of various other products including toothpaste and cosmetic procedures. I collected several different species of sea cucumbers while snorkeling in the seagrass and coral reef habitats just off the shore where I am currently living. I used my samples for demonstration during our recent youth camp. More updates and another video coming!
Yesterday we visited the Pawikan (sea turtle) Conservation Center just a short drive from my home in Sabang. The center was founded in 1999 by Kuya Manolo Ibias (photo below), a former sea turtle egg consumer who came to recognize the importance of marine turtles within the ecosystem and organized local community members to assist in turtle conservation. We got to see a baby olive ridley turtle (the first olive ridley I have ever seen because they are not found in the Atlantic) as well as a hawksbill and a green sea turtle.
Sea turtle nesting occurs from mid-September until mid-February here in the Philippines. During these months the 16 volunteers at the Pawikan Conservation Center patrol 6 kilometers of beach 2xs every night in search of mama sea turtles which crawl up the beach to lay their eggs. A mama turtle will typically lay an average of three clutches in a given season with just over 100 eggs per nest. After about 60 days the eggs hatch and baby turtles crawl to the surface and into the ocean. Light pollution is a significant threat to baby sea turtles, which use the glimmer of moon light off the water to orient themselves towards the ocean. Thus if you leave the back lights on at your beach house you might cause a baby green sea turtle to crawl in the direction of human development rather than out to sea.
Olive ridley sea turtles are most common along this beach. Last season Manolo and his team excavated 191 nests. The volunteers have chosen to dig up each nest they locate and transport the eggs to a hatchery at the conservation center to protect the baby turtles from various predators including dogs, crabs, birds and poachers. The hatchery consisted of a large enclosed sand pen. Half of the pen was shaded, while the other half was exposed to sunlight. Because a sea turtle’s gender is determined by the temperature of the egg during development, this hatchery design provides cooler temperatures for the shaded nests generally yielding male turtles and hotter temperatures for the sunlit nests, which tend to produce more female turtles. When transporting the eggs volunteers must move quickly because within a few hours of being laid the turtle embryo will attach itself to the egg shell at which point any rotational disturbance of the egg may kill the developing baby. New nests are dug by volunteers within the hatchery pen and monitored until the baby turtles emerge and can be released into the ocean.
Want to see a mama turtle nesting and help with nest transport yourself?! Manolo is always looking for new volunteers. Why not spend Christmas in the Philippines on the Pawikan Conservation Team?!? I will even pick you up at the Manila airport.
This past Friday we had a cookout for all the CRM (Coastal Resource Management) Peace Corps volunteers. There are about 22 of us total, along with our language instructors. This cookout was a lesson in Filipino cooking because each language class prepared a Filipino dish to share with the group. First, shopping for the ingredients at the local market and practicing our Tagalog as we bargained with the vendors. And then, cooking the food together and eating. It felt like Thanksgiving because we had enough food for 3 cookouts!!!
My group prepared Bikol Express, a spicy dish, originating from the Bikol region of the Philippines and home of my language instructor Eva. In the photo you can see Eva and me cooking up our delicious meal. Below is the recipe for Bikol Express, however I doubt that any American recreation of this dish will compare because the best part of Filipino cuisine is the freshness of all ingredients vegetables, seafood and my favorite the incredibly sweet fruits.
- Shrimp (hipon)
- Garlic (bawang)
- Onion (sibuyas)
- Tomato (kamatis)
- Chili pepper (sili)
- Ginger (luya)
- Salt (asin)
- Black pepper (paminta)
- Oil (mantika)
- Coconut milk (gata)
- Saute the garlic, onions, tomatoes, ginger and shrimp. (Igisa ang bawang, sibuyas, kamatis, luya at hipon).
- Add coconut milk with water and chili, black pepper, salt and simmer until cooked. (Ilagay ang gata tapes and silk, paminta hang gang maluto).
- Then, add the pure coconut milk (Tapos, ilagay and kakang gata).
Here is a link to the movie I made with the help of my host family for our tagalog language class.
Every morning (except on Sundays – my one free day) I have language class from 8am until 12pm. It is a class of 4 students with my amazing Filipino language instructor Eva. Tagalog is the most widely spoken language here in the Philippines, however there are ~170 different dialects depending on where in the country you are located. The Peace Corps facilitates intensive Tagalog language classes for all volunteers here in the Philippines during initial training. In September when I find out my permanent site, I will also receive a one week crash course in whatever dialect is prominent in my new location. Tagalog itself has a strong Spanish influence (the Philippines was a Spanish colony for 300+ years) and some adopted English words as well with a unique Filipino spelling. For example…
Nurse –> Nars
Airplane –> Eroplano
Cuarto (Spanish for bedroom) –> Kuwarto
Here is the script from the movie link. See if you can guess what I am saying…
Ito ang aming sala. Pakipatay po ang ilaw, Tita Rose. Salamat po. Pasok kayo sa kwarto ko. Malambot ang kama ko. Mahalaga bentilador ko kasi mainit dito Pilipinas. Dito ko inilalagay ang mga damit ko. Dito ang aming kusina. Dito kami nagluluto at ito ang gripo. Dito kami kumakain nang masarap na pagkain at umiinom tubig. Weniel, nasaan ang CR?