If you have a mask and snorkel packed in your suitcase and a plane ticket to a tropical country, chances are you are planning to visit the coral reef. It’s true, the coral reef is a breath taking array of color and biodiversity, but the mangrove ecosystem lining the coastal shores may also hold tales of impressive beauty.
Mangroves are only found in the tropics and subtropics, however climate change is slowly causing their range to expand further north and south from the equator. They provide a home for juvenile fish who will move out to the coral reef as they mature.
Want to snorkel the mangroves and the coral reef on an isolated island in the Philippines?! I would recommend Buenavista Fish Sanctuary in Looc, Romblon.
From shore you will take a small boat out to this tiny island, big enough for a one room hut and a cooking area. It is the perfect place for a picnic cookout. Jump into the water and explore the shallow waters of the mangrove habit, then swim a bit further from shore and see the coral reef. Buenavista is the lesser known fish sanctuary in Looc Municipality, but it is a beautiful tropical retreat!
Conception, Corcuera and Banton. Las Tres Islas. The three northern islands of the province of Romblon, reachable in 1 to 3 hours by a banka (small Filipino boat) depending on the size of the waves. The three most remote municipalities of Romblon, but potentially the most beautiful!
Last week I conducted coastal resource assessments of coral reef, seagrass and mangrove habitats with the help of 5 other staff in my provincial office. The most exciting and most tiring of these was the manta tow.
Accomplishments from our week of assessments:
91km of coastline assessed by manta tow
27 Seagrass surveys
4 Transects laid in mangrove habitats
34 Meetings held with local fisherfolk
Observations: 42 sea turtles, mostly green
Positives: Beautiful hard and soft corals with reef quality in some locations comparable to Apo Island Marine Sanctuary, which is one of the Philippines’ oldest and most renowned has been protected since 1985. With several deeper reefs the islands offer great potential for dive tourism.
Threats: Many crown-of-thorns were observed, along with coral bleaching and algal overgrowth, cuttings in some mangrove habitats, coastal pollution and future development.
Next steps: Crown-of-thorns removal and improvements to the management plans for existing protected areas. As a Peace Corps volunteer I will work with the provincial office to meet with the municipal mayors, other staff, and local fisherfolk to share these results and implement protection and restoration where it is needed.
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.
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.
SJ Byce as a Peace Corps Volunteer in the Philippines. And Intern at CIEE Bonaire '17