One of my biggest projects at site is developing the Provincial Reef Assessment Team, a group of divers to conduct regular assessments of Romblon’s marine resources to ensure proper management. We hope to also identify areas for protection in the future. Here are some photos from our recent dive training session.
Just south of Tablas Island is Carabao Island, only 8.5 sq miles (22 sq km) in size, I competed in their fiesta Bike-a-Thon: a 32km race around the island.
About 40 participants competed in the event coming from various regions throughout Romblon and the Philippines. Biking is a growing sport here, although mostly among wealthy communities, because a mountain bike is an expensive pre-requisite to joining.
Transport to and from Carabao was via banka, boats loaded to the brim with people, bikes, and beer for the event and the upcoming weeklong fiesta. The race course was super intense with extreme vertical climbs, requiring a dismount from the saddle to make it to the top, but the views were worth it! White sand beaches, remote communities and my favorite part: a downhill single track on the ridge top of the mountain with bright red dirt flying beneath our tires.
The day definitely lived up to the national slogan: “Everything is more fun in the Philippines!”
Seagrass is the only marine plant that produces flowers for reproduction. This is because they evolved from a group of terrestrial plants which adapted back to marine conditions about 100 million years ago after first migrating to land roughly 200 million years ago. And how are these flowers pollinated without underwater birds and bees?! it is the waves and water currents which carry seagrass pollen from one flower to another.
Seagrass is an important habitat for juvenile fishes before they grow up and swim out to the coral reef. Seagrass also filters water and produces oxygen. When I snorkel I often watch the small bubbles on the seagrass blades, which disperse into the water allowing fish to breath. Finally, seagrasses have true roots to anchor them to the ground and also hold the sediment to the ocean floor. Thus, without seagrass the clear and beautiful turquoise blue water of tropical oceans would be much darker and more murky from floating sediment.
With the help of my office teammates we recently completed surveys of all of the seagrass beds in Odiongan. Now just 16 more municipalities to go until the province of Romblon has a complete set of data for monitoring change in seagrass beds over time.
Having finished our first series of assessments, we are all experts in seagrass and mangrove species identification. This is a much more challenging task in the Philippines versus Key Largo, Florida: The Philippines has over 40 species of mangroves and about 16 species of seagrass compared to the 3 species of mangroves and 7 species of seagrass common to the Caribbean Sea.
Reference for more info: http://bioscience.oxfordjournals.org/content/62/1/56.full
Yesterday, I met a Peace Corps volunteer who served on one of the islands of Romblon from 1984-86 and now returned 29 years later with his wife for a visit. Greg Krieger, from North Dakota, lived on the small island of Banton before there were any roads and transportation meant walking or taking a small boat. Now the island, though still small, has paved its perimeter to accommodate motorbikes that are now the primary means of transportation there. Greg served as an agriculture volunteer and although his former home has now been replaced by a power plant, the community he served as not forgotten him. Upon arrival he was greeted by welcoming meals in numerous homes and tales from his 8 Filipino godchildren (In the Philippines it is typical for a child to have many godparents, maybe 6 to 12 for one child, while in America we only have two).
When I asked what differences he noticed in coming back: increases in government employees and stores were to be expected, however the noticeable decline in dental health since the 80s was most interesting. Interesting, but not surprising, an abundance of candies, sugary foods and soda has contributed to this decline. Those well off may be able to afford dental care and braces, however in the more rural towns I have yet to see an adult with a full mouth of teeth. Black decay in both teeth and gums is very noticeable. As a Peace Corps volunteer, I have the privilege of full health and dental care. I recently traveled to Manila to see a dentist for a new retainer (When I traveled to Romblon for fiesta, I returned to find small pieces of plastic on my floor: a rat had eaten my top and bottom retainers!). This trip to the dentist turned out to be great fun, because after the appointment she invited me to visit her gym and we attended a body combat class and a weight lighting class together. After she left I did cycling and active yoga!
All in all, Greg was once again awed by the hospitality of Filipinos. He reached out via Facebook to try and coordinate his trip and once word got around that he was here, people from throughout Romblon were excited to see him again. I am willing to bet that someday when I return people here will still remember the American who ran and rode her bike everywhere!