Report from the Philippines, Part Two!
After three days of sitting out the typhoon during my recent trip to the Philippines, our Philippines Field Representative Ferdie Marcelo and I flew to the beautiful island of Palawan.
After overnighting in Roxas, Ferdie and I met with representatives from project partner SIBAT and drove to Barangay Bagong Bayan. This remote village has a true "ridge to reef" ecosystem. With SIBAT's expertise, Seacology is funding the rehabilitation of a micro-hydro power plant. After meeting with community leaders, we viewed the non-functioning powerhouse. There is a nearby ice plant, which when powered will make a dramatic difference to local fisherman who will be able to chill their catches to keep fish fresh longer for marketability. The power plant also has an herb dryer, which when functional will enable community members to dry medicinal herbs to sell.
The Bangong Bayan watershed (right) is truly beautiful. The source for the microhydro system is above a lovely waterfall. The catchment at the top was not configured to maximize flow, so community members are working on that while they wait for generator parts to arrive. After staying back in Roxas for a night, Ferdie and I traveled to El Nido, on the northern tip of Palawan. I had heard for years about the beauty of this area, and stunning Bacuit Bay with its dramatic limestone islands and turquoise water.
The El Nido Foundation (ENF), our project partner is this locale, is very much in alignment with Seacology's core philosophies. They work to improve the lives of local people while protecting the area's glorious natural resources. The ENF staff took me out to Tres Marias to snorkel the site where Seacology-funded artificial reef modules were installed in 2006. Due to the recent typhoon visibility was not great, but I could see some of the reefs regenerating at the site. Below left is the enforcement boat, which was hanging out at Tres Marias to thwart poachers.
The next day, we visited the villages whose breathtaking mangrove forest and coral reef are the subject of our Fifty Simple Things project. These four communities are working on agreements to establish a 470-acre marine protected area and a 2,410-acre mangrove reserve. After a meeting with community members, we took boats out to the proposed marine area for a snorkel and scuba dive. I had never snorkeled in such wonderful conditions! The coral was healthy and there were many species of fish as well as myriad small jellyfish. Ferdie reported that he saw a Hawksbill turtle and a large blue lobster during his dive. Sadly, he also heard blasts from dynamite fishing in the distance. The four communities are worried about the future of their natural resources and encroachment from outside. The El Nido area's population is growing close to five percent each year, putting more pressure on the reefs. We are proud to work with the ENF on this project, and applaud the foresight of these communities.
We also saw their vast mangrove forest, pictured below right. The villages have already agreed to stop harvesting mangrove wood for making charcoal. Part of the 50 Simple Things project is to provide some cashew-processing equipment for the villages, as cashews from their many orchards are primarily sold unshelled. Shelling and roasting whole cashews will mean that the villages can gain a higher price for their product.
This coastal area is also home to dugongs, and one had been seen the previous day, but in all honesty, I was a little glad I did not see one, as that would have been far too lucky. My trip had enough magic without one! I came away humbled and inspired by all the hard work that the local communities and NGOs are doing in the Philippines to carry out Seacology's goals of protecting island ecosystems and species, while simultaneously improving the quality of life of island people.