Because I live in the Philippines…

We farm seaweeds.
We farm seaweeds.
Chickens are sold whole, roadside.
Chickens are sold whole, roadside.
Monkeys ride on the backs of goats!
Monkeys ride on the backs of goats!
The cultural equivalent of Popeye's spinach: Balut, a fertilized chicken egg. Watch out for the beak and small feathers when eating!
The cultural equivalent of Popeye’s spinach: Balut, a fertilized chicken egg. Watch out for the beak and small feathers when eating!
Playgrounds are found on the beach.
Playgrounds are found on the beach.
Furniture is made from recycled tires.
Furniture is made from recycled tires.
Free time during Peace Corps training is spent playing underwater hockey. We used a rock for our puck and sawed our own sticks.
Free time during Peace Corps training is spent playing underwater hockey. We used a rock for our puck and sawed our own sticks.
Sunsets are amazing!
Sunsets are amazing!

And how would you like your Giant Clam?!

The Giant Clam, threatened by over harvesting for food and aquarium trade, it is a marvel of the Indo-Pacific.
The Giant Clam, threatened by over harvesting for food and aquarium trade, it is a marvel of the Indo-Pacific.

Last week, I was served Giant Clam. How did an endangered species find its way to my lunch table?! This particular clam was one of many marine casualties from a recent boat grounding. I was called in to conduct the damage report after a large tugboat ran aground inside of a protected fish sanctuary, and left a large hole where there was once reef.

This hole is 336 square meters or about the size of 11 parking spots, where there was once coral.
This hole is 336 square meters or about the size of 11 parking spots, where there was once coral.

Assisted by three Filipino free divers, we surveyed the area taking underwater measurements with a large 50m transect line of the damage area. Secondly, I took many photos with my underwater camera to document the destruction. Finally, I conducted a visual survey of damaged species including displaced fish species, sea stars, corals, sponges and most notably the Giant Clam.

These branching corals grow about 10cm per year, but boulder corals grow less than 2cm per year, meaning that this wreck will take 50 years or more for recovery.
These branching corals grow about 10cm per year, but boulder corals grow less than 2cm per year, meaning that this wreck will take 50 years or more for recovery.

The Giant Clam can live to be over 100 years old, reaching sizes of up to 4 feet and more than 440lbs. Luckily, the clam damaged in our boat grounding was only about the size of a basketball, but that is still much larger than any clam I had ever seen in the Atlantic Ocean! Giant Clams attain such impressive sizes through a symbiotic relationship with zooxanthellae, an algae that lives inside of its tissues, giving the clam its color. This is the same algae found inside the stony corals which build coral reefs. Zooxanthellae captures light energy and produces food for the clam through photosynthesis, while the clam provides a home for this algae. Did you know that no two Giant Clams have the same color pattern?!

The Giant Clam damaged by the boat grounding.
The Giant Clam damaged by the boat grounding.

Here is more info about the Giant Clam as well as more cool photos: http://animals.nationalgeographic.com/animals/invertebrates/giant-clam/

Typhoon Ruby

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The Peace Corps has pre-established consolidation points, which volunteers are required to report to in the event of an emergency. Last Thursday, we were ordered to consolidate because Typhoon Ruby, known internationally as Typhoon Hagupit (meaning “the whip”), was heading towards the Philippines with considerable force. The past few days I have received constant text message updates about the storm with details such as…“Typhoon Ruby is making landfall early Sunday morning moving at 10 kph. By Monday morning she will be in the waters between Masbate and Romblon with wind speeds of 120kph.” This typhoon, which killed 21 people on the Filipino Island of Eastern Samar, was expected to slam straight into my province of Romblon around 10pm on Sunday.

Friday and Saturday were devoted to preparation for the disaster: trees and loose branches were chopped down. Items were moved off the floor and onto the bed in apprehension of flooding. Gates were closed, windows taped, furniture moved inside. Response vehicles were packed with drinking water and food rations. A boat was brought into town for rescuing stranded victims.

My group of 10 Peace Corps volunteers waited out the storm on the second floor of a hotel, located a few blocks from my home. Other locals were evacuated to cement churches, schools, and hospital buildings selected for their durability. And so began the waiting game…

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The Philippines receives an average of about 20 typhoons (aka hurricane) each year, generally between June and November, however this storm, arriving late in the season, was expected to be a big one. When I went to bed on Sunday night, Ruby had already begun crashing through the Philippines and I was expecting her to wreck havoc on my home throughout the night. However when the morning arrived it was as if the storm had simply evaporated. We were extremely lucky and the typhoon took a sudden turn north and missed my province entirely. We received two days of wind and rain, but no substantial damage. Thank you for all of your thoughts, prayers and well wishes. I am happy to be here and safe! Check out the news reports for other updates on the storm damage. I am still waiting to hear news from other volunteers as to how their sites faired.

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