Our Ocean, Our Future


Here’s one more video, a bit dramatic, but hopefully it will create desire to establish more protected areas here.

Flamingo Puzzle Art

The final product
The final product

Last week I gave my family a challenge: each member received a small piece of a photo I had taken from the other side of the globe, along with a blank piece of white paper. Each individual was to redraw their photo piece to the size of the white paper, but in secret! Once everyone finished we would assemble the drawing and discover the contents of the photo.

The photo was taken during my semester in the Turks and Caicos Islands. We discovered an injured flamingo, subsequently dubbed Jerome, near the island airport. We suspected Jerome had been attacked by one of the many feral dogs on South Caicos Island. Taped and nursed back to health from the comforts of our groundskeeper’s shower, Jerome made a full recovery and was released back to his flock. Although one leg was an unfortunate lost casualty of the art project, I currently have a lifesize version of Jerome hanging on my bedroom door.

Flamingos are found in Central and South American and some parts of Africa, which is why even once the photo was pieced together many mistook it for an ostrich, a more familiar bird. Unlike the heavy, solitary ostrich, flamingos are hugely loyal to their flock and also capable of flying. The pink hue of their feathers comes from pigments in brine shrimp that the birds scoop up with their hooked bills. Bristles inside the bill allow them to filter these small crustaceans as well as other mollusks, insects, and some plants from the water. The male and female flamingos both contribute to feeding the young, whose favorite meal is crop milk, rich in fat and protein this milk is produced in the adult digestive tract and regurgitated into the mouth of a chick.

This project was a lesson in art and zoology, but not without reward. The participants each received one US dollar for participation. This novel prize is equivalent to 44 Philippine pesos, enough to purchase lunch from the local Filipino cantina.

My host family with their prize: $1 coming from America!
My host family with their prize: $1 coming from America!

Life on Earth

A chocolate chip seastar
A chocolate chip seastar

Geologist Don Eicher, in his publication Geologic Time (1976), created a time model in which the 4.6 billion years of Earth’s history are compressed into a single year as an alternative means of conceptualizing life history:

“On that basis, the oldest rocks known date from mid-March. Living things first appeared in the sea in May. Land plants and animals emerged in late November and the richly vegetated swamps that formed the Pennsylvania coal deposits flourished for four days in early December. Dinosaurs became dominant in mid-December, but disappeared on the twenty-sixth, at about the time that the Rocky Mountains first uplifted. Manlike creatures first appeared sometime during the evening of the thirty-first, and Columbus discovered America about three seconds before midnight.”

Marine biodiversity and biomass is several orders of magnitude greater than that of terrestrial organisms. And 97% of all animals worldwide are invertebrates. To be a diver in Romblon, you must also appreciate these microfauna:

This blue tunicate is actually more closely related to humans than the seastar shown above!
This blue tunicate is actually more closely related to humans than the seastar shown above!
This tiny shrimp can be found hiding within an anemone.
This tiny shrimp can be found hiding within an anemone.

Recently, a seahorse species thought to only inhabit waters near Indonesia and never before seen in the Philippines was found here in Romblon. This guy is about the size of a pinkie fingernail!

Weedy pygmy seahorse (Hippocampus pontohi) photo by Lenny Kim
Weedy pygmy seahorse (Hippocampus pontohi) photo by Lenny Kim

“In the face of environmental change, the loss of genetic diversity weakens a population’s ability to adapt; the loss of species diversity weakens a community’s ability to adapt; the loss of functional diversity weakens an ecosystem’s ability to adapt; and the loss of ecological diversity weakens the whole biosphere’s ability to adapt.”

Our actions impact our oceans and the state of the ocean, impacts us.

Thorne-Miller, B. & Catena, J. Living Ocean Understanding and Protecting Marine Biodiversity. The Oceanic Society of Friends of Earth, U.S. Island Press. Washington, D.C. with a Foreward by Sylvia Earle.

Geologic Time Scale: http://home.planet.nl/~krame493/tijdschaal_eng.html

Seahorse Discovery: http://business.inquirer.net/179222/rare-seahorses-spotted-for-first-time-in-ph

iSeahorse Project: http://iseahorse.org/?q=explore&type=user&user=kati-romblon

Lastly a cool video:
Male Seahorse giving birth: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MsHCqrrU-Gk


Fiesta in the capital
Fiesta in the capital

Every municipality in the Philippines holds an annual weeklong fiesta. In Romblon, the largest fiestas are those in the capital and in the city of Odiongan, where I live. Although Odiongan will not be celebrating fiesta until April, this past weekend all of the Peace Corps volunteers, as well as many local residents of Romblon traveled to the capital for this fiesta celebration. I had to get up at 3am to stand in line just to get a boat ticket and then the boat was so packed with people I could barely find a place to stand! Good thing the Peace Corps issues us a personal lifejacket because the U.S. Coast Guard definitely would not have approved the ship at that capacity!

The president of the Philippines even made an appearance, arriving via private helicopter to give a speech (in Tagalog, of course). This is the first time he has ever visited our province and I was lucky enough to get a special access badge to the event! Following the president’s speech was the parade of Santo Nino, a statue of the baby Jesus belonging to Spain, however the local legend says that Spanish ships tried on 7 different occasions to bring the statue back to Spain and they were continuously met by rough seas and forced to turn back. After the 7th time it was decided that the Santo Nino would remain in Romblon and finally the weather turned fair allowing the Spanish ship to return home (without the statue).

Saturday morning was full of parading, costumes, dance, and delicious street food. I watched the various “tribes” compete in costume, dance and drumming competitions and enjoyed fresh roasted corn and hot peanuts sold on the streets.

On of the tribes, preparing for their dance
One of the tribes, preparing for their dance
Melissa and Guada, two Australian volunteers, myself and Trina, my supervisor and the Chief of Staff here in Romblon. We represented the provincial government in the parade along with several other of our office mates.
Melissa and Guada, two Australian volunteers, myself, and Trina, my supervisor and the Chief of Staff here in Romblon. We represented the provincial government in the parade along with several other of our office mates.

And A Happy New Year in Palawan

Coron, Palawan
Coron, Palawan

After a 7hr boat ride, 2hr bus ride, a taxi, a 13hr layover, a small plane ride, and one last van trip, I finally arrived in Palawan, Philippines for New Years and a diving vacation with some Australian volunteers that I work with in Romblon. We stayed in Coron, which is known for it’s wreck diving!

Our group at the beachside picnic site after a snorkeling adventure.
Our group at the beachside picnic site after a snorkeling adventure.

I dove four different wrecks, all Japanese ships sunk by the US during WWII in 1944. We were able to swim inside all of the boats including a cargo ship, one assault vessel and an oil tanker. We needed special underwater dive lights to see while inside, except when swimming past one of the large holes left by US bombs. Some passageways were very narrow and required single file lines, while others, particularly the oil tanker, had huge spaces!

Inside the Akitsushima Sea Plane Tender, a Japanese warship sunk in Sept 1944.
Inside the Akitsushima Sea Plane Tender, a Japanese warship sunk in Sept 1944.

The trip was amazing! For the diving, the combination of Filipino and international foods, the people, and the gorgeous views. Here is a sunset taken after climbing the 700+ stairs overlooking the town (that was my typical morning workout up and down 2-3 times, but the view at the top was worth it).

The sun setting on my dive vacation to Coron, Palawan, Philippines.
The sun setting on my dive vacation to Coron, Palawan, Philippines.


The following are some holiday haikus that I wrote just before Christmas. I also wrote Tagalog versions of each poem, printed them out on nice holiday paper and distributed them as a Christmas present with some small candies to my various friends here in the Philippines. This present also served as a lesson in American and Japanese culture as people here are unfamiliar with the haiku tradition. However I made a humorous language error when I mailed these poems to my former host family:

I included a small note with the poems explaining the nature of the haiku poem. In the note I said, “Para sa reglas ng Haiku…” meaning to say “according to the rules of the Haiku…” I only later found out that the word ‘regla’, which means ‘rule’ or plural ‘rules’ in Spanish, translates to “menstruation” in Tagalog. I am hoping that my host family will find humor in this error, however I have not yet heard anything back from them.

Below are the English versions of my Haikus. Feel free to comment with Haikus of your own and bonus points to the person who can incorporate holidays and menstruation in a single haiku!

In the Philippines
Simbang gabi and singing
We eat together

In America
Cookies and snow, presents too
Santa Claus will come

Whether Pasko here
Or a Merry Christmas there
We will celebrate

Maligayang Pasko
Merry Christmas to all

Merry Christmas from the Philippines

Although my Christmas was not a winter wonderland, the Filipino Christmas spirit is incredibly strong! My office had a huge Christmas party complete with an entire roasted pig and a competition featuring choreographed dance routines to Frozen’s ‘Let It Go’ and life size paper mâché snow penguins.


I also taught my host family how to make paper snowflakes and we currently have a proper winter blizzard hanging on our wall.


Leading up to Christmas you can hear sounds of carolers every night as it is tradition that children or school groups walk around the neighborhood singing door to door. While the festive sounds are cheerful, these carolers are not doing so for fun but for money, and it is expected that you give them a few coins when they finish. Also leading up to Christmas, many Catholics attend “Simbang Gabi” meaning “church night” because mass is held at 4am everyday for 9 or 10 days until Christmas.

However the real occasion is December 25. On New Years Eve we cooked a huge meal of spaghetti, chicken, pasta salad and ube jam (ube is a bright purple root crop native to the Philippines in a dish reminiscent of sweet potato pie filling). Then at 12am, the very moment Christmas arrived, Filipinos everywhere ate their Christmas feasts.

When I left the house on Christmas morning for my standard run, the streets seemed to be full of ‘trick-or-treaters’!? Christmas Day is very similar to American Halloween: children tote around bags and knock on doors asking more for money than candy, but both are acceptable gifts. And it was a very busy morning as I have never seen so many people walking about! I even had some small children join me on my run, at least for a few meters.

To make the day complete, I fell asleep watching fireworks from my bedroom window. Careful though, firework mishaps and malfunctions are the number one source of injuries during the holidays.