Basic First Aid with the Philippine Red Cross

Have you ever taken a Red Cross class? Perhaps CPR or Basic First Aid or Lifeguarding.

The Red Cross takes its roots back to Geneva, Switzerland in 1863. Today there are Red Cross Societies in nearly every country worldwide (190 total) including the Philippine Red Cross!

For the Mountain Guides on Sibuyan Island in Romblon, Philippines, a visit from the Philippine Red Cross has been on their wish list for the past 10 years.

Climbing Mt. Guiting Guiting, Sibuyan Island, Romblon
Climbing Mt. Guiting Guiting, Sibuyan Island, Romblon

Last week, with support from the Romblon Provincial Government together with a US Peace Corps grant 36 mountain guides, porters and staff members joined a 4-day training session on Basic First Aid led by two Philippine Red Cross certified Instructors.

Philippine Red Cross instructors demonstrate proper technique for back boarding a patient.
Philippine Red Cross instructors demonstrate the proper technique for back boarding a patient.

If your fellow climber gets bit by a snake should you suck out the poison?!
No – “avoid any interference with the bite wound such as incising, rubbing, vigorous cleaning, massaging or applying herbs.” Instead, work to calm your patient and have them sit or lie down in a safe and comfortable position. This will slow the spread of any potential toxin throughout the person’s bloodstream. Seek medical care if the snake is thought to be venomous and determine the best mode of evacuation for your patient.

36 mountain guides practice CPR and rescue breathing on a partner
36 mountain guides practice CPR and rescue breathing on a partner

Our 36 mountain guides learned to respond to cardiac and airway emergencies. They each received a large white bandage easily foldable into a cravat for managing open wounds as well as bones, joints and muscle injuries. The guides borrowed Magdiwang’s municipal spine board for practice transporting patients with spinal injuries and also discussed how to improvise a hammock carry with large tree branches and a tent tarp if needed.

For their final test the participants were dispersed to response to a simulated mass emergency crisis: 6 victims scattered throughout the Natural Park with various injuries ranging from a broken ankle to a head wound and even not breathing with no pulse.

The tourist victims preparing to assume unconsciousness
The tourist victims preparing to assume unconsciousness

The 6 teams of responders were all successful in finding their patient, assessing scene safety, giving appropriate treatment, and evacuating their patient to office headquarters.

A total of 31 individuals passed the Red Cross final exam and received their certification. My biggest challenge during this course was holding onto participants. Despite a fully funded training most mountain guides have little money during this off season and several dropped out of the course so they could return home and work to feed their families. Others did their best to make do. The guides from San Fernando lacked funds for transportation and elected to walk 37km just to attend this event. Many participants would disappear into the forest during session breaks to gather honey which could be sold in town for money.

If you are planning to climb Mt. Guiting Guiting in 2017 or later, know that your mountain guide is looking out for you and has Basic First Aid knowledge to respond should an emergency arrive. And maybe give him an extra tip for making sure your safety is a priority.

We passed!!!
We passed!!! The newly certified First Aiders

If you are applying to be a Peace Corps Volunteer with an Aquaculture work assignment, you might still end up facilitating a medical training for Mountain Guides if you find a need. I decided to mix work with pleasure when I climbed Mt. Guiting Guiting mountain last year and am happy that one year later I was able to fulfill my promise and catalyze this training. Read about my 2015 Mt. Guiting Guiting climb.

Boracay Beautiful

“You must go to Boracay!!” Ever since moving to Romblon countless Filipinos have given me this firm command. Boracay seems to be a land of incomparable beauty and a sign of status if one is wealthy enough to vacation there.

The small island of Boracay features one of the World’s Top Rated Beaches. White Sand Beach lives up to its name, with incredibly fine grains of impeccable white sand free from rocks and rubble extending along the island’s western side.



This World Class Beach also comes with all the commodities of high class tourism: Think SouthEast Asia’s version of South Beach, Miami. After over a year living in a small Filipino community with no grocery store or mall, I could not believe that just a two hour boat ride from my home there is a Starbucks, a Subway, two McDonalds, access to any international cuisine you desire: Mexican, Indian, Korean…etc and a place where tourists walk around in bikinis, rather than swimming in tshirts and shorts as is Filipino style.

The glamor of Boracay is both amazing and overwhelming. Each morning the beach is carefully raked and devoid of any trash particles. Teenage artists set about building ornate sandcastles in hopes of making a few pesos from photographing tourists. And stand up paddle board operators, skimboard vendors, and lifeguards set up shop for another day on the beach. By evening restaurants cart out tables and chairs, transforming the beach into a romantic dinner atmosphere complete with lights, all-you-can-eat buffets, live music and fire dancers. What may feel like a picturesque vacation spot during the day, transforms into a hopping party scene by night.

Sandcastles light up the beach at night. I even watched someone propose! Can you see the "Will you marry me?" carved into this castle.
Sandcastles light up the beach at night. I even watched someone propose. Can you see the “Will you marry me?” carved into this castle.
Sunsets with the silhouettes of sailboats along the horizon. Photos can't possibly capture the beauty
Sunsets with the silhouettes of sailboats along the horizon. Photos can’t possibly capture the beauty

To the north, tourists can also enjoy Puka Beach. It’s less crowded and relaxing vibe is in sharp contrast to the hype of White Sand Beach. While standing on Puka, I could glimpse Romblon Province’s Carabao Island to the north and was again amazed of the proximity of this mass tourist attraction to my island Province where I frequently wake up at 2am to try to get a faster internet connection.

Scuba diving, Zip lining, Sailing, ATV riding, Kiteboarding, Parasailing… Boracay offers it all. But when I took a short morning run away from the tourist traffic, the island felt like any other small Filipino community: women outside washing their clothes, little sari sari stores selling snacks, small market stands with fresh produce and hanging meat. Each morning the working class from these homes trek into town and begin a new day’s production in waitressing or selling sunglasses to passing tourists. “Ma’am Sir, Ma’am Sir!!” This endless call rings in your ears while you wander along the beach walk.

As the tourist zone of Boracay continues to expand, foreigners are buying up land and frequently forcing locals to be squatters on their own island. Running along a bit further, I was unlucky enough to come across the massive dump of waste produced by this form of mass tourism. Not quite so beautiful.

Boracay is incredible, but if you are planning a trip to the Philippines, do not let this glamorous island be your only stop. You will miss the sights endless fields of rice stalks bending in the wind, of crowds of people gathering to meet small fishing boats and buy their catch, of watching a local saunter up a 40ft coconut tree with no ropes or harness and handpick a young coconut for you to drink. You won’t see the Filipino water buffalo (aka Carabao) swimming in a mud hole or working in the rice fields. And you will miss the challenge of navigating footpaths to find a local waterfall.

The Romblon Crew: the 6 Peace Corps volunteers currently living on Tablas Island, Romblon and serving in coastal resource management, education, and ecotourism capacities

Romblon province is only a short boat ride north, but it is rich in Filipino culture and natural adventures. And for me, it is home!

Underwater Superhero

Want to be an underwater superhero?! That’s what it feels like to participate in crown-of-thorns removal.
SJ Byce: underwater superhero in action! Be careful not to touch the venomous spines on the back of the seastar. My right thumb recently discovered that it is, in fact, painful.
The crown-of-thorns seastar (Acanthaster planci) is a corallivore, meaning it consumes coral and does so at a rate of roughly 6 square meters per year (more during spawning season, less if immature). Outbreaks of crown-of-thorns (COT) are devastating reefs through the Indo-Pacific region to the point that a single reef might have hundreds or thousands of COTs, which consume coral faster than it can grow back. The COTs leave behind a barren trail of white feeding scars where there was once healthy coral. The origin of such outbreaks is thought to be an overfishing of predators such as Triton snails, Humphead wrasse, and Titan triggorfish as well as an enhanced larval survival perhaps the result of elevated water nutrient levels.
COTs extrude their stomach to feed so their acidic digestive juices will break down coral polyps to a nutritious slurry of food. When I pulled this guy off the coral you could see his stomach!
Notice the dead white coral called a feeding scar left behind by COTs. The one who ate this coral colony is currently in my net and trying to climb up the side
COT outbreaks and the corresponding management efforts have been documented since the 1960s in primarily Japan and Australia. Australia recently even developed a robot to target COTs. In small coastal communities COTs wreck comparable havoc, however effective and cost efficient management efforts have not yet thoroughly explored, particularly in the Philippines.
My research project will explore existing COT awareness levels, management efforts, and removal success in small coastal communities throughout the Philippines to help such communities improve their response in the future.
Local fishermen load COTs into our bamboo boat “banka.” Notice his traditional wooden goggles, underwater he is wearing a single wooden fin.
To complete my research project I often get the opportunity to play the part of underwater superhero. Donning my mask, fins and snorkel and equipped with kitchen tongs and a floating wash basin aside a Filipino fisherman equipped with his own wooden goggles and single large, flat fin tied on with bits of elastic rope we dive down in search of COTs. Scanning the reef for fresh white feeding scars is the giveaway sign that a COT is nearby often hiding under a coral ledge. On some reefs we have barely enough time to breath as we collect COT after COT, scooping them up with our kitchen tongs and filling our floating wash basin. In the past year we have collected over 10,000 COTs amounting to 60,000 square meters of coral reef saved from consumption! After we bring the COTs to shore they are buried on the beach above the high tide line.
Burying our collection of COTs on the beach above high tide
Educating locals about COTs