It was a normal summer day in the town of Mabini Batangas, one of the Philippines’ most popular diving destinations. The scorching heat was in full swing, the dive resorts were doing brisk business and boats were criss-crossing along the coast, carrying divers eager for underwater adventure. But on that day last month, two of those diver-filled boats had a different purpose: instead of diving for sheer fun, these divers were going underwater to survey coral, fish and invertebrate species in an effort to determine the health of the reefs. As for me, I was there to observe, take pictures and seek inspiration in the participants’ enthusiasm for their work.
The group was composed of representatives from nine municipalities in the Verde Island Passage (VIP), a priority marine biodiversity corridor in the Sulu-Sulawesi Seascape. They came from various sectors (local governments, private resorts, NGOs), and they were gathered together to undergo training on reef monitoring. For this activity, Conservation International-Philippines has partnered with Reef Check, a global organization for reef conservation. Reef Check has developed a methodology for reef monitoring that can be done even by non-marine specialists, but still adheres to strict standards and protocols to ensure the quality of the data.
“It’s very good as a monitoring methodology for local governments, where often the expertise in coral reef monitoring is limited,” says Dr. Wilfredo Licuanan, Course Director of Reef Check Philippines. He said that in time, it is hoped that local governments in the Verde Island Passage will be able to conduct regular reef monitoring and incorporate the results in their official reports, such as annual State of the Coasts reports. “This can also be a step towards encouraging accountability in their respective areas,” he continues, since investing in the monitoring also means that the local governments have set certain goals in maintaining or protecting the reefs in their areas. He also hopes that in the future, sports divers will also be willing to be trained in reef monitoring and volunteer their services to local governments.
Dubbed as the “center of the center of marine shorefish biodiversity,” VIP’s reefs certainly have a lot to offer. The corridor supports fisheries, tourism, shipping and transport industries, among others, and hosts 26 coastal municipalities and cities. Encouraging and equipping local stakeholders to take responsibility for the health of their ecosystems is an important part of CI’s work in the corridor. With training on mangrove and seagrass assessments also scheduled to happen soon, work continues to build a corps of involved, equipped and dedicated professionals working for conservation.
Corina Bernabe is the communications coordinator for CI-Philippines. Read her full story.