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.
Seagrass is the only marine plant that produces flowers for reproduction. This is because they evolved from a group of terrestrial plants which adapted back to marine conditions about 100 million years ago after first migrating to land roughly 200 million years ago. And how are these flowers pollinated without underwater birds and bees?! it is the waves and water currents which carry seagrass pollen from one flower to another.
Seagrass is an important habitat for juvenile fishes before they grow up and swim out to the coral reef. Seagrass also filters water and produces oxygen. When I snorkel I often watch the small bubbles on the seagrass blades, which disperse into the water allowing fish to breath. Finally, seagrasses have true roots to anchor them to the ground and also hold the sediment to the ocean floor. Thus, without seagrass the clear and beautiful turquoise blue water of tropical oceans would be much darker and more murky from floating sediment.
With the help of my office teammates we recently completed surveys of all of the seagrass beds in Odiongan. Now just 16 more municipalities to go until the province of Romblon has a complete set of data for monitoring change in seagrass beds over time.
Having finished our first series of assessments, we are all experts in seagrass and mangrove species identification. This is a much more challenging task in the Philippines versus Key Largo, Florida: The Philippines has over 40 species of mangroves and about 16 species of seagrass compared to the 3 species of mangroves and 7 species of seagrass common to the Caribbean Sea.
Reference for more info: http://bioscience.oxfordjournals.org/content/62/1/56.full
This past weekend, I traveled to Sibuyan Island, considered “the Galapagos of the Philippines” for its endemic terrestrial diversity. While I hope to return in the summertime to hike the infamous Mt. Guiting Guiting (6,752ft), the objective of this trip was distributing materials for seaweed farming to local fishermen as an alternative livelihood project. These materials are provided for free to the fisherfolk families as compensation for damages to the fishing industry in response to Typhoon Yolanda and also as a means to reduce pressure on declining fishing populations.
Rope, twine and floatation rings were distributed to fisherfolk after a training session on seaweed farming methods. Here is the basic construction of the farm: a net system that has seaweed seedlings tied in rows, and grows in the ocean just off shore.
In 2009, seaweeds were the 3rd largest fisheries export from the Philippines after tuna and shrimp.* The seaweeds grown are often shipped to France, Denmark, Japan, USA or UK after processing in the Philippines. Although raw seaweeds are used for consumption, died seaweeds are often processed for carrageenan, commonly known as seaweed flour, or kelp powder and in a huge variety of products.
What everyday goods are made from seaweed components? Toothpaste, shampoos, ice cream, yogurts, pill capsules, paints and much more! Eucheuma seaweed is a commonly farmed red seaweed, however many different types of seaweeds can be farmed. Check out the link below for more info.
SJ Byce as a Peace Corps Volunteer in the Philippines. And Intern at CIEE Bonaire '17