Coral, Fish, and Jellies

An important part of natural resource management is measuring exactly how much of that resource is present to determine how it changes over time. For a marine biologist this means scuba diving and counting all the live hard coral and soft coral under a transect line (a huge 50m tape measure)

John counts coral and records the data on a plastic underwater dive slate. Did you know that pencils write above water and below?!

The second part of our assessment is a fish population survey, where we swim along the transect line and count every fish and record the species and size class. The problem of overfishing in the Philippines means that most fish are <10cm in size, big fish are rare.

Notice the lionfish hiding upside down under the beautiful colony of boulder coral. Lionfish may look majestic, but those dorsal spines pack some painful venom, so don’t touch!
An Orange skunk clownfish (Amphiprion sandaracinos) stares at my underwater camera. This fish is named for the white line that runs along its dorsal ridge, like a skunk’s white stripe.
That scuba diver on the left is ME and that sting ray in the distance is a MANTA RAY!!! Checkmark on my life list, that moment was incredible!

The manta ray photo above did not happen during our coral reef surveys in Romblon. These creatures are a rare find, but Manta Bowl dive site in Donsol, Sorsogon is a great place to find one if it is also on your life list.

Dive assessments and manta rays…if only that was the happy ending, instead our team of scuba divers emerged from our last dive with a super itchy full body rash!

After some investigation we determined that our unfortunate participation prize was “Sea Bather’s Eruption,” a rash caused by invisible jellyfish larvae that get caught in your clothing and become stressed. The stress triggers their stinging cells to fire, which condemned us to two weeks of intense itching! 😦

Jellyfish spawn in the warm waters of summer. We were particularly unlucky because there was no current whatsoever on our last dive. My best advice to avoid 2 weeks of scratching: stay low in the water column if it is the season for jellyfish larvae. I was feeling somewhat cold and tried to stay in the higher warm water, but if you dive below the thermocline you may avoid the worst of their itchy wrath.

3 thoughts on “Coral, Fish, and Jellies”

  1. Good day, Sarah!

    Sea Bather’s Eruption is itchy. I’ve experienced something similar in Alcoy, Cebu but it didn’t become a full-blown eruption (I don’t know if it has something to do with me being a Filipino. Filipinos are sea creatures).

    What you do is truly inspiring. I’ve always wanted to contribute to making other people’s lives better — by volunteering in education and/or environmental programs.

    However, the opportunities for volunteering here in Cebu is limited or I’m probably not so good at searching.

    Would you be able to refer me to an organization that will give me an opportunity to volunteer? I’m particularly passionated about preserving our oceans. I’m a PADI-certified rescue diver so I’m okay with being in the water.

    I can also teach, I have a degree in education.

    I hope this comment reaches you. Please feel free to email me.

    Thank you for your time.



    1. Hi Bal, my volunteering contract is for US citizens and sponsored by the US government. Since coming to the Philippines I have worked with the Philippine Marine Mammal Stranding Network and iSeahorse through Project Seahorse. Check out iSeahorse! Everytime you go scuba diving you can complete one of their surveys to help monitor sea horse populations. Also REEF collects fish data on populations worldwide so if you know fish id you could also contribute to their database. Through REEF sponsored by Rolex they have an amazing highly competitive yearlong fellowship for scuba divers. Look it up to see if you qualify. Good luck!

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