Tag Archives: Coastal Resource Management

2015 Video Highlights

Here’s some more info about the best clips in my video:

  • I spent my 26th birthday at 9 Waves Resort in Manila for our Peace Corps mid-service training seminar. Therefore my ‘happy birthday’ was multiple rides down the double loop waterslide!
  • Scuba diving in Apo Island featured the most extensive coral coverage I have ever seen! Contact Harolds Dive Center or Liquid Dumaguete. There are also great muck dives near Dumaguete, which is where I found the seahorse featured.
  • Most of the marine life was seen while diving off of Tablas Island, particularly in Ferrol, Romblon with First Buddy Tablas, the new local dive shop.
  • Wreck diving in Subic Bay had mediocre visibility, but exciting WWII ships to explore. My favorite was a submerged air pocket in one of the wrecks. We also saw an octopus. Contact Mark Walton at Camayan Divers for more info.
  • In December a Spinner Dolphin stranded in Odiongan Bay. Here you can see the footage from our rehabilitation efforts at the Marine Breeding and Research Station, including the 4 person process of feeding a fish smoothie via intubation. Thanks to the Philippine Marine Mammal Stranding Network for advising us in this rescue.
  • The music was taken from our government Employee’s Day dance routine (I also performed but was on the left side and outside the video frame). Imagine if American government offices had annual, compulsory, choreographed dance competitions?!!? We practiced for 3 weeks for this performance and handmade all costumes and props. Thanks to our choreographer Shakira for all the help!
  • Lastly, these two waterfalls are my favorites! Just a short bike ride from my home in Odiongan. Thanks to Kalen for trying to teach me how to dive, luckily my diving skills have improved substantially from this first attempt featured in the video.

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).

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.

Crown-of-Thorns

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The Crown-of-Thorns (CoT) sea star (Acanthaster planci) can pose serious threat to Pacific coral reefs. The CoT varies from traditional sea stars in that it may have anywhere from 7 to 23 limbs and possesses numerous, long, sharp, toxic spines. In normal quantities this invertebrate is an appropriate part of the Pacific reef ecosystem. However, recent, increased, massive outbreaks of CoTs are highly problematic because the CoT is a corallivore, meaning it feeds on coral. Thus, outbreaks have the potential to destroy entire reefs. The CoT eats the fleshy polyps of a stony coral colony leaving behind white scars of the remaining dead calcium carbonate coral skeleton. In a balanced ecosystem CoTs feed on fast-growing Acroporid coral species, however when CoT numbers are abundant they begin feeding on slow growing coral colonies like Porites, which can devastate reefs for many years into the future.

Natural predators of the adult CoT include titon triggerfish (Balistoides viridescens), white-spotted pufferfish (Arothron hispidus), napoleon wrasse, humphead wrasse (Cheilinus undulates), giant triton snails (Charonia tritonis) and painted shrimp (Hymenocera picta). Overfishing of these predators, particularly the Giant Triton, valued for its large, beautiful shell, may have led to increased CoT outbreaks. Furthermore, it is possible that our wastewater and fertilizer have also contributed to these outbreaks. Scientists theorize that nutrient-rich runoff into the ocean from human activities has enabled more CoT larvae to survive, because CoT larvae feed on planktonic algae and an increase in nutrients favors excessive algal growth. Thus more nutrients –> more algal –> more CoTs –> greater damage to coral reefs.

Methods of CoT control:

  • Land Disposal
    • Collect CoTs, handling them with large serving tongs. Bring them to land and bury them.
    • When stressed CoTs will attempt to spawn, therefore it is essential to remove them from the water as quickly as possible.
  • Cutting up and Crushing in situ
  • Tying in bags in water
  • Poison Injection (acetic acid or sodium bisulfate)
    • Injection causes the CoT to disintegrate
  • Using dead CoTs as material for compost has been practiced in Fiji

Currently, we are exploring these methods at my site and will be developing a removal program in the future!

Welcome to Odiongan, Romblon!

The first site of our future home! With other volunteers Kendra (education), ME (Coastal Resource Management), Loren (education), Ata (CRM), Drew (CRM), and Kalen (education)
The first site of our future home! With other volunteers Kendra (education), ME (Coastal Resource Management), Loren (education), Ata (CRM), Drew (CRM), and Kalen (education)
Biggest boat I've ever ridden on for the ~6hr journey to Romblon. There were beds to sleep, a restaurant, and of course videoke aka karaoke.
Biggest boat I’ve ever ridden on for the ~6hr journey to Romblon. There were beds to sleep, a restaurant, and of course videoke aka karaoke.
My office and the huge welcome banner they had waiting for me, complete with my photo.
My office and the huge welcome banner they had waiting for me, complete with my photo.

It has been a busy first week here in Odiongan, Romblon. I think that the entire community already knows who I am because they see me running every morning. Since arriving I have assisted in the care of an injured green sea turtle, visited local fish ponds, helped collect and transfer tilapia at a fish hatchery, met with the governor, the mayor, and various school officials, and even done zumba with the Odiongan police force. I have the fortune of 5 other Peace Corps volunteers from Batch 273 also placed on my island including Kendra who is a short walk away, Ata, Loren and Kalen, who are within an 1hr and 30mins run from my site (Loren’s host dad was extremely surprised when I actually did run this distance my second day at site and stopped by for a glass of water and a picture to prove I made it), and Drew, who is a few hours drive to the north. Because I work for the provincial government, I will be traveling extensively throughout the 17 municipalities over the next two years. This could not be a more ideal place to spend the next two years: wonderful host family, supportive office staff, numerous potential work projects, and gorgeous mountains and ocean!

First snorkel experience with my Filipino friend Rolanie, a high school student
First snorkel experience with my Filipino friend Rolanie, a high school student
Various species of butterflyfish and surgeonfish at a local marine protected area (MPA)
Various species of butterflyfish and surgeonfish at a local marine protected area (MPA)

Permanent Site Assignment

 I just received my permanent site placement!!! I will be spending the next two years living in Romblon. This island province has a population of 283,930 and consists of 3 major islands. I will be living on Tablas, the largest island of the three, in the municipality of Odiongan, in close proximity to several other Peace Corps volunteers. Romblon’s islands are of volcanic origin and mountainous with lush vegetation. I have already heard word of beautiful white, sandy beaches. The economy is primarily agriculture with major copra and rice farming as well as coconut, corn, and fruit trees, along with abundant fishing. There are also numerous mineral resources, especially marble. Although there is an airport on my island, it is not currently functional. Therefore I will be taking an ~8 hour boat ride to get to my site.

My job assignment is with the Provincial Government (most other volunteers work at the municipal level). As a provincial employee, I will may have the opportunity to travel throughout the 17 municipalities and explore the other smaller islands. Romblon is known for being very pristine and I will be working to preserve this quality through the creation of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs). Additionally, I will be involved in ecological profiling, reef assessment, research, and training for the provincial reef assessment team. My office specifically requested a volunteer who was dive certified. Additionally, my office is blessed with available funding, support and technical resources. Finally, there is much potential for marine thesis projects as I continue to earn my Master’s degree from the College of Charleston. I am so excited to be joining such an active office, where I can contribute my technical skills and easily collaborate with other Peace Corps volunteers.

More good news: Tagalog is the dominant language meaning that I can continue learning the same language I have been studying throughout training rather than transition to an alternative dialect. On September 18th I will travel to Romblon and I could not be more excited!! Still no word about the details of my host family but it is soon to come.