Tag Archives: cebu

What do you need to start a garden?

Most common answers include dirt, seeds, water and sunlight, maybe a shovel. This is correct if you are trying to grow plants in your backyard, however the garden I want to start is for animals…

From March 14-16, I attended a training workshop on coral gardening, and now I hope to grow coral, a sessile marine animal, within the province of Romblon. Necessary inputs for gardening coral include 4in steel nails, mallet, zipties, pliers, saltwater, rocky substrate, and sunlight.* Branching corals are ideal for gardening because they are fast growing and can reproduce asexually from a fragment broken off a larger colony.

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Important note: No live corals were broken for the purpose of garden building! Instead we dove around a reef in search of already broken, but still living branching coral fragments, which we aptly called, “Corals of Opportunity” or CFOs. The CFOs may have been fragmented by boat anchors or local swimmers and will die unless they find a new anchor along the ocean floor.

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Before receiving my certification as an expert coral gardener, I participated in a land-based practicum.

Land-based training to secure corals before doing so underwater
Land-based training to secure corals before doing so underwater
The coral nursery unit. The corals shown are dead samples for our land training. For the real nursery live corals were used and the unit was prepared underwater.
The coral nursery unit. The corals shown are dead samples for our land training. For the real nursery live corals were used and the unit was prepared underwater.

While underwater, the nails are hammered into rock until secure. Then, a coral fragment is tightly fastened to the nail with a ziptie. Don’t forget to cut off any additional plastic from the ziptie, otherwise algae may begin to grow and invade your coral.

For smaller coral fragments, a Coral Nursery Unit may be built in shallower waters. The nursery is useful to give the fragments a head start in growing before transfer to the reef. It is also useful to ensure you have a consistent supply of coral fragments for long-term gardening.

Preparing the nursery unit in the shallows before we carried it deeper.
Preparing the nursery unit in the shallows before we carried it deeper.

As gorgeous and as tempting as it was to explore the depths of the gorgeous coral wall close to our site, instead the tasks of searching, hammering, fastening and cutting to create a new coral garden in the reef shallows was a much better use of the 3000psi of air in each of my 4 SCUBA tanks. By the conclusion of our 3-day workshop, 25 Peace Corps volunteers and 25 Filipino counterparts built 3 coral nursery units and attached over 100 coral fragments to a shallow, rocky reef in front of JPark Hotel on Mactan Island in Cebu. Go CRM!!!**

*Alternative methods include securing a large rope net to the ocean bottom and tying coral fragments so the entire net will grow into a continuous reef at the conclusion of the project.

**CRM or Coastal Resource Management is the title of the Peace Corps sector that I am a part of. Other possible sectors include Education or Children, Youth & Family (CYF).

Shark Diving off Malapascua Island

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April and May mean summer vacation here in the Philippines therefore adventures are abounding, families are traveling, and I am no exception…

This past weekend I visited Malapascua Island, a 2.5 square km island just north of Cebu known throughout the world for its regular thresher shark sightings. Thresher sharks (Alopias vulpinus) are nocturnal and generally live at depths of 200-300m. They are roughly 4-5m in size and are easily identified by their very long tail and large eye. At sunrise each morning these sharks come up from the depths to meet cleaning wrasse, small fish, which remove parasites from the shark’s body. Therefore, at 5am our dive boat set out for Monad Shoal dive site, the cleaning station of choice for local thresher sharks.

Sunrise SCUBA diving
Sunrise SCUBA diving
The thresher sharks and cleaning wrasse meet at a depth of about 80ft where a large rock ledge forms a table for cleaning, before the threshers descend back to the depths to avoid the intensity of daylight sun. Kneeling on the rubble ground, as thresher sharks swam by was incredible!

Myself and John, hanging out at 80ft
Myself and John, hanging out at 80ft
“People come to Malapascua to see thresher sharks, but what they remember is Gato Island.” So we were told upon arrival by our divemaster. After visiting Gato Island myself, I completely agree!!! This site current ranks as the best dive of my life, thanks to Wilbert our expert divemaster. Here is a quick list of some of the most exciting discoveries on this dive. (I suggest you google any animal you haven’t heard of before because some are so unusual you’ll be wondering how they ever came to be in the first place)

• Cuttlefish – related to an octopus and can change color instantly
• Nudibranches – sea slugs that breath through hair-like gills streaming from their backs
• Whitetip reef sharks – we saw one swimming towards us as we came out the other side of an underwater tunnel
• Pygmy seahorses – the size of your fingernail when full grown
• Ornate ghost pipefish – related to the seahorse but extremely fragile
• Skeleton shrimp – transparent tiny shrimp
• Frogfish – camouflage so well that even though our guide pointed right at it, it a game of underwater charades for me to understand what I was looking at
• Spiny devilfish – I almost placed my hand right on top of this guy because of his incredible camouflage, luckily I didn’t because he has venom in his dorsal spine
• And even more!!!

Wilbert is on the other side of this sea fan, highlighting a tiny pygmy seahorse with his dive light.
Wilbert is on the other side of this sea fan, highlighting a tiny pygmy seahorse with his dive light.

Swimming through the underwater tunnel, as we emerged whitecap reef sharks swam past!
Swimming through the underwater tunnel, as we emerged whitetip reef sharks swam past!
My next summertime adventure is planned for early May when I will be attending a 3-day workshop on seahorses.