Coron and Cuttlefish

Coron, Palawan
Coron, Palawan

Palawan, Philippines is known worldwide as an amazing dive location. While visiting Coron I dove 4 different WWII wrecks and also saw an abundance of marine life including my first cuttlefish!

Cuttlefish
Cuttlefish

The Cuttlefish is a mollusk, meaning it has a soft, squishy body, and more specifically a cephalopod related to squid and octopus. This cuttlefish was rapidly changing color almost like waves rippling over its body, due to specialized cells called chromatophores, which allow it to change color. Cuttlefish and other cephalopods also have highly developed eyes and relatively large brains.

Wreck diving

Sea cucumber
Sea cucumber

I found this sea cucumber while diving at my site. It is an echinoderm, due to its spiny skin and tube feet, related to seastars and sea urchins. April and May are the summer months here in the Philippines, which also means that the ocean water is calm and perfect for SCUBA diving. Next month and during the summer I will be working with my office to survey the reefs in Romblon…more diving!

Alternative Livelihoods and Sustainable Living

Goat raising for meat and milk
Goat raising for meat and milk

The native goat is a bit smaller in size, however the farm I visited is cross-breeding it with a larger imported variety to produce hybrid goats.

Seeds from some of the Filipino spinach, winged beans, peanuts, cowpeas...
Seeds from some of the Filipino spinach, winged beans, peanuts, cowpeas…

Filipino spinach is very different than American spinach. While there are several tropical spinach varieties, none are very common where I live.

Container Gardening!!!
Container Gardening!!!

Reduce, reuse, recycle. Consider reusing plastic bottles to plant vegetables. Here we planted some pechay, a leafy green. Once the plants get too big for the containers they are transplanted.

Papaya, eggplant, peanuts, cucumber, onions, green beans and many others
Papaya, eggplant, peanuts, cucumber, onions, green beans and many others
Vermicompost
Vermicompost

The African Night Crawler worm is an ideal decomposer because it has a huge appetite for breaking down organic waste. This species can produce 3 cocoons with 2-15 new baby worms per week and thus it can double its volume in 90 days.

Just Another Day at Work

My job description is Coastal Resource Management, however a day at work could mean any number activities on land or in the water…

Diving in Ferrol, Romblon
SCUBA Diving in Ferrol, Romblon
Training coworkers to conduct seagrass assessments
Training coworkers to conduct seagrass assessments
Sea Turtle Embryonic Development for the visual learner
Teaching Sea Turtle Embryonic Development for the visual learner

Recently, I visited the turtle hatchery in Ferrol, Romblon to educate local staff members on sea turtle embryonic development to avoid future egg mortalities. This interactive lesson featured a banana peel, representing the egg yolk or food source for the developing turtle; a green baby turtle made from a plastic bag; water for the fluids contained inside the egg; and a wine glass to represent the turtle egg shell, which in reality is about the size of a ping pong ball with a soft leathery feel. I then proceeded to tape the green “embryo” to the top of the wine glass to demonstrate how the membrane surrounding the baby turtle fuses with the egg shell shortly after eggs are laid. This is why it is EXTREMELY important to transport nests immediately after they are laid if the nest needs to be moved and to take extra care not to rotate or shake eggs at all during transport. Current research recommends transport within the first 3 hours of oviposition and discourages any movement after 10 hours. If the connection of the vitelline membrane to the egg shell is broken the embryonic turtle may not be able to properly respire (turtles breath air) inside the egg and will likely die. After passing around my wine glass turtle egg, the hatchery staff will take extra care if moving eggs in the future!

*Source: Lutz, Musick, & Wyneken (2002) “The Biology of Sea Turtle Vol 2” page 201. And Limpus (1979).

Making nipa roof shingles for a new hut at our fish ponds
Making nipa roof shingles for a new hut at our fish ponds
Processing data from our mangrove assessments in my office cubicle
Processing data from our mangrove assessments in my office cubicle
Teaching about ecosystems or climate change in local high schools
Teaching about ecosystems or climate change in local high schools

This lesson for the advanced 7th grade science class featured a field trip to the Mountain, Lowland and Coastal Ecosystems. Students learned to collect field data by recording the substrate in their 1mX1m quadrate in each location. We then discussed how ecosystems are interconnected and how actions like deforestation in the mountains can lead to sedimentation damage at the coral reef.

Visiting the Coastal Ecosystem
Visiting the Coastal Ecosystem
Discussing all of our data in the classroom after the field trip
Discussing all of our data in the classroom after the field trip

My favorite part about teaching is knowing that each student will remember that lesson for the rest of their lives! Not necessarily that ecosystem comes from the word “oikos” meaning “home,” but that a crazy American took them on a hike through trees, shrubs, grasses and sand and it was fun! If that is all they remember at least those 7th graders can now recognize various ecosystems and will value these resources. And maybe, just maybe it will influence how they live and act in the future.

Mangroves – And Why I joined the Peace Corps!

Me & Clen in the mangrove forest (aka mangal)
Me & Clen in the mangrove forest (aka mangal)

Climbing through the branches of a dense mangrove forest, walking barefoot through swampy, anoxic mud, and balancing carefully on the web-like aerial roots of mangrove trees, while gathering field data is just one day in the life of a Peace Corps Volunteer!

The past two weeks my office began our 2015 series of mangrove assessments. Mangroves are trees able to live in fresh or salt water, typically found lining coastlines in tropical regions. They are extremely important because these trees are the defensive line for human communities when typhoons sweep through. They also provide a nursery habitat for fish, cycle nutrients, stabilize sediment, and serve as home and food for marine and terrestrial animals alike.

Unfortunately, humans are a mangrove’s number one threat. In the past, Filipinos removed entire forests to make way for shrimp ponds, while Americans chopped down their own mangroves to obtain unobstructed ocean views from their vacation home windows. Today, mangroves enjoy a fiercely protected status in both countries, however illegal cuttings for firewood, construction, or Christmas trees are still common here.

Why does a casual stroll through a dense mangrove forest require the dexterity of a yoga practictioner? Mangroves inhabit coastal sediments frequently lacking in oxygen. This oxygen is essential for cellular respiration, a process all living things use to break down food and convert it into energy. Therefore, the mangrove has developed a system of aerial roots allowing it to gather oxygen aboveground instead.

And so, I have spent my past week of work sizing up mangroves for their height and canopy cover with the help of my Filipino Mangrove Assessment Team. I trained the team in assessment methodologies, while they taught me how to identify tree species, and we all gathered data to inform proper future management of mangrove resources – this is why I am a Peace Corps Volunteer.

Check out this link to a new video featuring Clenessa Gabinete, a member of my Mangrove Team.

http://youtu.be/x-eetlPRj-k

She is currently applying to Duke University’s Marine Conservation Summer Institute and hopes to one day obtain a Master’s degree. Wish her luck!! This would be her first opportunity to travel outside the Philippines too.