Marine Conservation in the Philippines

Latest update August 21, 2019 Started on March 1, 2015

Using science to understand how local and global pressures affect marine ecosystems, we empower, engage, and build local and national capacity to reduce and adapt to pressures, aiming for a sustainable future for the Philippine people

March 1, 2015
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Last Aug. 17, we had the most challenging task of attending a waste assessment and brand audit (WABA) event in Dumaguete, Negros Oriental. Zero waste foundation organized the event where we sorted 8 days worth of household residual waste and recyclables from 55 households in one of the local barangays in the Municipality. The data collected are very useful when a community is aiming for a zero-waste barangay. The data will also show us how much trash the community is generating, and will help the community and generating policies such as the frequency of barangay trucks to pick up the trash, or how big is the materials recovery facility (MRF) and other decision making for solid waste management.

Brand Audit

After the sorting of trash, our group was assigned to audit the food sachets. In the Philippines, most communities cannot afford big volumes of food, and personal care, so the manufacturers end up producing tiny volumes of these products and we call them sachets. It was indeed an eye-opening for most of the participants because we realized there are many manufacturers producing not just one food sachet but many brands. We might think it is the people that need a change of mindset to stop plastic pollution, but also the manufacturers are responsible for producing these small sachets. The question is, who needs to stop first? Who gets the blame?

Results of the brand audit will be shared to us this September so stay tuned!

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From the 4th - 6th July, Alan (Research Manager) and Laura (Monitoring Manager) were at Aklan State University for the 15th Philippines Association of Marine Science Symposium. This was a great opportunity to see what other organisations, institutions and independent researchers are working on to deliver real science and management solutions for Philippines conservation efforts.

Alan presented on seasonal variation in common indicators of MPA effectiveness. By looking at selected MPAs across Dauin, Zamboanguita and Siaton it was seen that at the present time we are unable to see any variation in the common indicator, coral cover and there was no relationship between coral cover and other indicators of MPA effectiveness such as commercial fish and invertebrate biomass. This means we have to conduct more research into the physical parameters such as sediment, temperature salinity and water quality. There were however interesting variations in algae cover which were linked closely to some species of parrotfish which are important herbivores, helping to maintain available reef space for juvenile corals.

Laura looked into how the MPA effectiveness assessment tool correlated to the biological factors. Interestingly, the creation of a management board and management plan were inversely proportional to coral cover. However, in support of enhanced community outreach programs and high school science education, education and public awareness was strongly linked to MPA effectiveness.

This backs up the mission statement of MCP to "preserving and protecting coastal resources in the Philippines through education, volunteerism and research. We engage local communities and policy makers and work to ensure solutions that will benefit both man and nature in the long run."

If you would like to see/use the available educational materials developed by MCP click here

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In The Field

It has been a busy week preparing for the 15th Annual Philippine association of Marine Science Symposium at Aklan State University, Panay. The theme this year is "Fostering synergy of science, community and governance for healthy seas".

To participate, Marine Conservation Philippines are sending two staff members, Alan Kavanagh and Laura Schram to present on "Seasonal variation in commonly used indicators of MPA effectiveness" and "MPA effectiveness evaluation: the relationship between the MEAT and Biophysical indicators of effectiveness" respectively.

Watch this space for more updates!


We are very excited to announce that we have been granted a TRIDENT Remote Operated Vehicle by the SEE Initiative.

Using this ROV we can bring the underwater world to local highschoolers in a way they could never even have imagined. Using the controller, they can roam the ocean down to depths we can't even reach on regular diving equipment.

Having previously done some research on Mesophotic reef ecosystems at 40-50m deep, this can open up a whole new avenue of reef exploration, looking into how our shallow ecosystems interact with the deep waters beyond!


VIDEO: In April, we held the inaugural MCP Sea Camp. Eighteen young people joined activities ranging from first aid and knot tying to snorkeling and a beach clean, helping them connect more to their marine environment. Deemed a massive success by all involved, they have continued to join our weekly beach clean up in an effort to commit themselves to a better future for our planet.

In the last couple of months, our volunteers have been a great help to the local women of PAPSIMCO (Palayuhan, Palimpinon and Siit Multipurpose Cooperative). PAPSIMCO is one of the people’s associations in the Municipality of Siaton, whom MCP works with to promote sustainable livelihood projects. Their largest scale project at the moment is the restoration of their local mangrove forests.

On this visit, volunteers needed to help restock the PAPSIMCO nursery with Sonneratia and Avicennia mangrove species (local names “Pagatpat” and “Bungalon” respectively). These two species are adapted to harsh environmental conditions such as strong winds, waves and salt water making them the perfect barriers between land and sea. Volunteers waded out into the deep mud with bamboo shovels to harvest the correct seedlings. When these seedlings are tiny, it can be extremely difficult to tell the difference between species. The PAPSIMCO members came to the rescue, assisting the volunteers and explaining the key differences in leaf shape and preparing sticks with red or green paint to help distinguish between species. On these occasions, our teams targeted mainly Sonneratia seedlings because this species only produce seeds once a year.

Volunteers collected a whopping total of 440 mangrove seedlings over just two Saturday mornings! These seedlings will remain in the PAPSIMCO nursery for roughly 7 months, until they achieve heights greater than 1 meter. Once seedlings grow taller than a meter, they are called saplings. Volunteers will plant these saplings out in the seaward area of the forest later in the year.

Saving the best news until last, MCP has just helped PAPSIMCO secure enough funding to remodel their broken boardwalk. This project will enable PAPSIMCO to conduct ecotours of the mangroves, educating tourists from all over the world about the importance of these forests for local communities, coral reef ecosystems and the global climate crisis.

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In The Field

A day in the mangrove forest
What better way to experience mangroves other than any mangrove boardwalk is to actually stick your feet into the nutrient-rich mud and plant a mangrove sapling!

The day has come, this is a challenge well accepted for MCP volunteers!

We arrived at 8:30 in the morning as the lowest tide reported was at 8:52. We had time to do a short briefing together and group ourselves into two teams. One team went out and started digging and the other team brought in the mangrove saplings from the nursery. There was a little waiting for the digging team since we had a difficult time walking back and forth bringing the mangrove saplings for them to plant, again it’s a 200-meter walk!! So we changed the dynamics, instead of going back and forth, we started to make a long line and pass one mangrove sapling to the other like ants following pheromones.

MCP volunteers went through an amazing race against tide to plant 240 mangrove saplings out of the goal of 300 saplings with the help of the local community of science high school students and few members of PAPSIMCO. I wouldn’t say it was easy, as every step you take in the mud is a landmine for the other person following you. The more people that walk in the path you take, the deeper you go. Thus, the saying by Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Don’t go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.” This might be good to know prior to mangrove planting!

We hope for these babies to survive the test of time. More updates on this in the coming months.

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Preparing for the mangrove planting day
On the 25th of January, I went to meet Evelyn, one of the members of PAPSIMCO which stands for Palayuhan, Palimpinon, and Siit Multipurpose Cooperative, to strategize with her where to plant the mangrove saplings in Tambobo Bay. They are one of the people’s association in the Municipality of Siaton that MCP has been collaborating with in different projects including mangrove restoration.

Mangroves benefit us more than we think

Mangroves are salt-water loving trees and they are a vital ecosystem for conservation in the Philippines. If you have read our previous blogs about mangroves in our website Marine Conservation Philippines , these salt-water loving plants are actually very efficient in trapping sediment from upland before it reaches to the sea. They are also home to our important juvenile fishes such as snappers and parrotfishes. Aside from its role in helping corals survive and as fish nursery, they are as important for the local community in Tambobo Bay because these trees protect them from strong waves during typhoon season. The mangrove forest in Tambobo Bay has approximately 23 species including the landward mangroves. Yet the mangrove nursery only contained three species because we only started the project last year.

Evelyn and I thought to put different colored flags in the area to indicate where the volunteers and the local community can plant so they are guided when they get to the mangrove forest. And so, we prepared materials, such as bamboo sticks and long tree branches and ripped green and red colored cloths and tie them in each stick. We measured 30-meter and a 10-meter line since we will be planting 300 mangrove saplings with a space of 1 meter with each other. Each meter in the line has a cloth that we tied to guide in the spacing. The red cloth indicate the mangrove saplings Sonneratia alba or locally known as “Pagatpat”. While the green cloth mean the mangrove that is behind the Pagatpat, and that is Avicennia officinalis or locally known as “Bungalon”. These two species can withstand strong winds, waves and salt water as they have adaptations to survive in this harsh environment. Sounds cool for a tree, right?

The walk from the PAPSIMCO house to the area to be rehabilitated is about 200 meters, not that far! However, if you know where mangrove reside, you also know that there are sharp gastropods that live below the mud and could cut your feet. Finally, we reached the perfect area—close to the mangrove forest as possible, and mud that is ankle deep. Evelyn and I placed the sticks with flags in four corners and tied the rope between the flags.

Looks exactly like Amazing Race is going to happen!

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In The Field

Community day in Andulay

Monitoring surveys are fun! Yet, it’s even more enjoyable if we get to share what we see underwater to the local community. And so, we organized a community day with the local fisherfolk of Andulay, a village close to base. This event was our way to better connect the locals and show our appreciation of diving in their area so often, at the same time letting them experience what we are doing when we go under the water.

So, we divided ourselves into three teams: the education group for the local children, another group to take some locals to Discover Scuba Diving, and lastly, a group of divers to remove an overpopulation of Crown-of-Thorns (CoTs) in the marine protected area.

Volunteers made education fun and rewarding!

When about all thirty children arrived, we officially started our day with a couple of warm up games such as trying to crack smiles on their stoic faces by dramatically saying mahal kita which means “I love you” in Visayan, the language spoken in the region. The kids were so fast during the first activity that volunteers had to pick another one so the unlucky person in the middle could get some relief from five or six rounds of sprinting in the sand! Then, watching the children try to force down giggles while saying “I love you” forced us all to get a little bit goofy.

Once we got them comfortable spending time with us, we took the kids to a scavenger hunt for marine debris that are found along the beach, and they did amazing! They had no hesitation of grabbing and searching for what didn’t belong, but we also had them gather shells to educate them that the shells could be potential homes for an animal such as the hermit crab. Our final activity was everyone’s favorite, and had us separate the kids into corals, invertebrates and fish. We each taught them basics in each category, and how they act underwater and had them try to imitate. After they had that perfect, they acted out how they (the animal) would react to plastic pollution in the water. The children practiced first in their individual groups, and then all came together in their “ecosystem” to show their parents how the underwater world lives, both normally and under the suffocation of plastic pollution. It was such a beautiful sight to see for the parents!

Discover-scuba-diving for the other locals

Simultaneously, another group of divers were already taking the parents and other local adults underwater to experience a totally different world that they had never visited before. The Discover Scuba Diving course is made for people who have never experienced scuba diving and do not have any licenses, and can use it as a way to determine if they want to pursue an Open Water Diver certification. The nervous, inexperienced divers were a bit hesitant at first, but as they descended underwater, our MCP dive masters watched as the participants eyes widened in the wonder of the beautiful reef below the surface. Although they knew the amount of wealth it held below, being down on the reef firsthand with the diversity of fishes and corals showed them how precious a gift they have right outside their doorstep.

Mission possible: Crown-of-thorns removal

The third group of divers had belts of vinegar in preparation for Crown-of-Thorns (COT) removal. These creatures, a part of the sea star family, are normal to the reef as they are one of the predators who dine on diseased coral. Their niche involves preventing the spread of disease that can wipe out a reef. However, if there are more than about 40 COTs per hectare, there won’t be enough diseased coral to feed on and healthy corals will be at risk of being killed. Therefore, MCP was determined that only experienced divers with good buoyancy should remove the venomous-spined creatures completely from the water because it needs to be removed in a constricted time to prevent spawning into hundreds or thousands of tiny COTs.

By the end of the day, all the divers had collected about 200 of these coral predators! Although happy to have had the experience, some of the divers were sad about having to kill marine animals. It was an important lesson to recognize when to physically intervene while being a part of a marine conservation group, and when to allow nature to take its course.

We stood around a feast of seafood, noodles, curries and rice, and smiled at each other as Neil, the president of the Fisherman’s Association of Andulay, explained to us the rule of sharing this meal: you must stick your hands right in to enjoy. As we started digging into the beautifully cooked meal prepared by the local women, we all laughed, ripping off pieces of the leaves that held the different food and still trying to locate plates to eat off of. This is indeed a short but very fulfilling Saturday!

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Mangroves are often seen as smelly, mosquito infested areas close to the crystal clear blue ocean. So why not chop down the trees and build a resort from which you can directly walk into the sea as has happened at so many tropical beaches? Not the smartest idea in hindsight, since those same mangroves actually make sure that the ocean remains so blue.

Mangroves function as a first barrier or buffer, both for storms and typhoons but also for mud, nutrients and pollutants that rivers bring down from the mountains. There’s a good article in the Science and Environment section of the BBC website on how effective mangroves are at providing security. Mangroves function as a nursery ground for part of the fish species. Rabbitfish, snappers and trevallies grow up in the mangroves protected from predators and migrate to the reef at a later stage, as documented in a report published by Dirkje Verhoeven at MCP. Because the ecosystems of the mangroves, seagrass and coral reef are interdependent, resorts make it very hard for themselves by removing an important ecosystem since the reef in front of the resort will slowly degrade. Mangroves frequently occur in the same area where coral reefs and seagrass occur.

Mangroves have some very special adaptations that make them grow in areas where no other trees can grow, namely in intertidal areas with very salty conditions. They need to remove their excess of salt to survive. Mangroves do that by excreting the salt through their leaves. If you look closely at the leaves you’ll often see salt crystals. The soil is muddy, compact and not very stable which makes it hard for mangroves to develop roots in the mud. The species that are almost permanently in the water have developed a more stable root structure with roots sticking out of the trunk that is very well visible. Because the mud is so dense, the mangroves have developed a special kind of roots sticking out of the ground called pneumatophores to ‘breathe’ oxygen. The seeds already germinate on the parent plant, so when the seedling falls down from the tree in the water, it actually has a chance of surviving the hostile salty environment.

Although it is now illegal in the Philippines to cut mangroves, it has already happened on a huge scale and mangroves have gone down from 5000 square km to roughly half this amount. In our area we have two extensive mangrove areas of which one is practically our backyard. The Coastal Resource Manager of Zamboanguita has already been replanting mangroves in old fish ponds and MCP volunteers are helping as much as we can. Besides replantinmg we now conduct frequent tours in the mangroves with our volunteers but also teach local school and church groups as we show them around and explain why mangroves are so important. Additionally MCP started a mangrove nursery at our base a few months ago with as many different mangrove species as possible to be able to plant back a mix of species that comes closest to the original diverse ecosystem.

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So long, and thanks for all the fish!

Hi! My name is Jorien van Schie, a 23 year old BSc biology student from the Netherlands. In the period of February 2016 till July 2016 I did my internship at Marine Conservation Philippines. From the moment I arrived at MCP it felt like home. Beautiful place, great atmosphere and lovely people. I came to MCP as a non-diver so the first two weeks was spent learning how to dive through the PADI Open Water Course and the Advanced Course. The following weeks was fish-ID training and of course during all those weeks it was settling down, getting used to every days program and getting the hang of the MCP lifestyle.

Together with the science officers of MCP, and my supervisors, we agreed on a subject for my own research. My subject became the efficiency of marine protected areas in the south-eastern part of Negros Oriental (the province where MCP is located) with the emphasis on the reef fish and a few of their environmental factors. During my internship there was a Dutch thesis student and she did her thesis about the role of nursery habitats of the reef fish in the effectiveness of marine protected areas. We had a huge overlap with our research so all trainings and surveys were conducted together. It was really nice to work together, same struggles, same goals, same experiences and so much fun together.

During our studies it was always exciting to see what surprises are waiting for you, day after day. Strong currents, disappearing transect markings, car troubles, choppy entries and exits, aggressive Titan Triggerfish or physical problems. You have to work with what you have so just go with it. If you have to postpone activities, so be it. Long-term planning is the most difficult thing to follow when you are at MCP or comparable programs, but it makes sure you stay sharp and it is never ever going to be boring.

MCP gave me a lot of responsibility during my stay and I loved it. Because of that I’ve seen more and learned more than I could have expected. Working with so many volunteers teaches you a lot about yourself, about your functioning and your social skills. I learned more about teaching, doing research, creative thinking, planning and of course marine biology. I created a new passion in scuba diving and I’ve seen the need for conservation of (marine) life. I can say that this internship was the best experience for me, not only schoolwise but also personally. I know now that a social interest is an important addition for me for doing research and for my future.

The biggest thanks to my friends and the most lovely founders of MCP, Soren Knudsen and Helle Dalgaard Larsen, for having me and to Dolf and Annelies Andringa for getting the best experience out of my internship. Of course a big thanks to everyone I had the pleasure working with at MCP and making every day a new adventure. If you want to read my research report, you can download it here.


Science lessons at Zamboanguita Science High School

One of the main pillars of Marine Conservation Philippines is education. Although we have grand plans and want to organize frequent lessons in marine biology topics for all schools in the area, we have to start small. Educating primary schools is a challenge, because in most schools the main language is Visayan. That changes when students go to secondary school and have English as their main language. Eventually we want to develop a program with different modules, provide teacher training and teach interest groups in the arboretum we live in as well.

The most successful initiative we have employed so far is the Environmental Club of the Zamboanguita Science High School. This is a group of 13 to 16 year old students who are interested in the environment. We meet one Saturday a month and organize a varying program of excursions and lectures. The students are very enthusiastic and easy to motivate. Last school year we had between 20-40 students each meeting. This school year we started with 84!

In the first meeting we had a brainstorm and talk about the activities we did last year and things we would like to do the coming period. Snorkeling and mangrove replanting turned out to be really successful last year, so we’ll do that again. New activities include a long hike through nature (the students’ idea, not ours), camping at the arboretum and learning more about the complexity of the reef ecosystem.

We started with a topic that the teachers were most concerned about: plastic pollution. The decided upon activities included: A lecture about the dangers of plastic in the ocean (using some still pictures from the horrible video below of a turtle with a straw in its nose) and plastic accumulation at the plastic gyre in the middle of nowhere, designing a poster in which you warn people what happens if you don’t get rid of your plastic, a beach clean-up and an art project in which part of the garbage was used in the artwork or for the higher grades making a bin out of plastic bottles. After a complete morning of hard work the results were very nice to look at. The winners were awarded with a reusable shopping bag.

In the coming year we will have excursions in which we replant mangrove, snorkel and look at the different creatures living under water, get a tour through the arboretum and learn more about the plants and trees that are growing there and do more beach clean-ups. The students will learn more about coastal ecosystems, including the mangroves and the seagrass, reef ecology and sea mammals and we will end the year with an MCP summer camp (actually spring camp, the school year end in March). We are looking forward to a fun year with lots of activities!

In The Field

Crown of Thorns Starfish Removal in Siquijor

With a group of volunteers we removed 1300 Crown-of-Thorns Starfish (COTS) from Siquijor over 4 dives!

COTs eat coral and if they occur in normal numbers you see maybe 3 during your dive. During a COT outbreak that number can be as high as 500. There is no agreed upon reason as to why outbreaks occurs but many do agree that collection of the biggest COTS predator, the Triton Trumpet shell, the increasing water temperature and the amount of nutrients in the water are to blame.

A COTS looks like a normal seastar but has many more arms and a spiny body which makes it challenging to remove from the reef. Additionally the thorns are poisonous and if you accidentally touch them, the result is severe pain. Due to the high prevalence five of our divers reported touching the COTS accidentally with no reaction or only mild discomfort.

There are a number of different ways to remove COTS and care must be taken as they can stress-spawn, releasing millions of eggs into the water column. Cutting them up is also not an option as they can regenerate their body parts and this can result in an exponential increase in numbers. The method we would have chosen was to use an injection gun with a large canister of vinegar to dissolve the starfish, but as we got summoned to Siquijor in a hurry, we forgot it! – So we improvised, with each buddy pair diving with syringes already filled with vinegar and a string of small bags filled with vinegar with which we could refill the syringes as we went along. The assisting buddy looked very interesting: a necklace with syringes, a string with bags with vinegar, mesh bag, stick and bbq tweezers all on top of the normal dive gear.

The syringes work well if the COT are a bit spread out, but eventually after depleting all the refills we had to resort to the more conventional method of picking up a COT and putting it carefully in a bag. When the bag is full or you run out of time (30 minutes after you put the first COT in the bag to prevent spawning, because they don’t like to be on top of each other), you carefully bring the full bag to the surface and hand it to the boatmen. On our second day when we visited some badly infested dive sites we we forgotten to bring something to put the COTs in. Fortunately our own dive crates workes perfectly well and we ended up with 7 crates full of COTs. We collected 500 COTs in one forty minute dive! Crazy numbers unfortunately! The outbreak is only near San Juan and some dive sites are much more infested than others. Afterwards we had to dig a big hole in the sand to bury the COTs, making sure that the hole was deep enough so the COTs could be buried without the risk that some spines were still sticking out.

Interesting three days, but the outbreak is not over yet…

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After 13 months of surveying, thousands of man hours and looking at 324 species of 18 different fish families, we have now completed our baseline survey! Admittedly we could have continued another 2-3 months and included more families, but often you can (statistically) decide that enough is enough.

Starting with the relatively easy Butterflyfish and Angelfish, we gradually increased the workload with more species and more difficult families. Hardest work for our volunteer teams were the Parrotfish, which look totally different when they are adult, teenage or juvenile meaning that you have to learn two or three color patterns for the same fish!

Initially setting out and expecting to find 70 species of wrasse, we ended up observing 84 species, so after 13 months the final list of families is:

Butterflyfish-Angelfish-Grouper-Rabbitfish-Snapper-Sweetlips-Parrotfish-Surgeonfish-Triggerfish-Fusilier-Coral bream-Tobies-Filefish-Porcupinefish-Boxfish-Puffer-Wrasse-Goatfish

In total we have an indicator list of 75 fish species, a number of important invertebrates and substrate surveys together form our long term monitoring program, which MCP will use to keep monitoring the health of the reef around Zamboanguita.

We also wish to thanks everyone who helped out with the monumental task of collecting the data for our first big research, completed just about year after MCP became fully operational. Thank you so much each and every one of you!

Environmental Education of Local Schools

As part of our conservation efforts we are committed to working with young people to develop an awareness and appreciation for our amazing oceans. In a world where environmental concerns are becoming all the more pressing, our goal is to help students develop the understanding, skills and ability to make a difference.

To do this, we have a broad educational program which includes our Environmental Club and our hosting of schools from different countries. In this post, however, we want to shout about our newest development.

Claire Drucquer, a teacher from the UK, has spent the last two months designing a marine conservation curriculum that can be delivered by future volunteers in local schools. It consists of 18 lessons covering the topics of coral reefs, sharks and plastic pollution.

In this time she has been delivering the lessons to students at Zamboanguita Science High and at the Little Children of the Philippines in Dumaguete. The lessons are filled with games, quizzes, videos, experiments and demonstrations that have engaged the students in new and exciting ways. Some highlights have been students making (and eating)! their own coral polyps out of bananas and biscuits, a shark myth-busting lesson, creating a whole mural in the girl's dormitory at LCP and taking a class of 30 students for a virtual, underwater dive. The time in the school has been an absolute privilege says Claire – > the students have been so receptive to new ideas and creative in coming up with their own solutions. Every day we are welcomed by 30 students who want to learn and we leave having had thoughtful discussions, tons of lightbulb moments, surprises from students and lots of laughs!

Perhaps most importantly we have aspired to make our lessons relevant to students own lives. Taking into account their experiences of the ocean and using these as starting points for developing a deeper understanding is at the heart of what we’re trying to do. Using examples of local reefs such as Apo island, incorporating the work of MCP and responding to what students say they want to learn has made our curriculum unique, and we like to think, more useful to students and teachers.

So we now have a full curriculum with background reading, lesson plans and resources for the lessons. What makes us happiest is being able to share what we’ve done. Teachers have requested our lessons to use in their schools and for us, this is the biggest success! If you are a teacher, or know one – please check out our resources for teachers

In The Field

Exploring new frontiers has always been something humans have been attracted to. The excitement of encountering the unknown, learning more about the world we live in is what broadens our minds.

Ahead of our trip to the Hinagdanan cave of Bohol, we all hoped to find a new species, an adaptation or maybe just an endemic species. Along with the biological aspect of our trip, we also had the possibility of exploring another pool that was reported to be connected to the main pool of the cave through an underwater tunnel, by local free divers. The cave had not been explored by SCUBA before!

We entered the cave with expectations and excitement, ready to implement the survey plans made by Annelise and Dolf, MCP’s resident Science officers. A quick initial snorkel survey of the pool revealed possible tunnels that would first be explored by Soren, MCP’s diving safety officer and PADI instructor.

Soon, considering our findings, we started discussing how we could get as much data out of the few shorts days we had in the cave. Our aim in this multi-team endeavour was to survey all the living creatures in the aquatic part of the cave to provide comprehensive info to be added to the final report of SUAKREM (Silliman University Angelo King Research And Environment Center,) sponsored by JICA (Japan International Coorporation Agency.) The report will be used to ensure the utilisation of the cave is aligned with preservation goals, and that the cave is adequately protected.

The main method of sampling to survey smaller invertebrates and fish was to use home-made traps with bait that would be laid out on transects on the bottom of the floor of the pool. A two member team spent much of the morning laying out these transects carefully while the rest of the team checked and prepared traps. Simultaneously, Soren was exploring the cave which must have easily been the one activity everyone wished they could do.

30 traps were deployed at intervals along the cave floor. The traps were baited, tagged and laid out at equal distances along the transect. Even as we were laying out the traps, we were amazed to see some crabs and fish that were quite large already in the first traps laid out. We then allowed these traps to lay overnight to get a good sample size for the survey. Meanwhile, Soren had been diving previously unexplored tunnels into new chambers that the main pool was connected to. Although we all understood the rationale, we were of course sorry to hear that because of many restrictions (preventing divers travelling side by side) and silty conditions, the rest of the volunteer team couldn’t safely explore these parts of the cave system. This meant that he would have to map and video these spaces alone.

The second method employed for sampling was to swim along the bottom with a scoop net to ensure samples of those animals that were too large for the traps. At the end of our first day, Dolf managed to get some of these samples as well.

The next two days were spent emptying all the traps and resetting them to ensure we had collected enough data about all the animals that lived in the cave. If PADI had a crab photography speciality, there’s no doubt our volunteers would be able to pass that!

Over the few days we managed to find 4 species of crabs and one species of fish, all of which seemed to hint of a permanent cave habitat.

Spending a few days in a hot, damp, smelly cave can be tiring but it gave the MCP volunteers a taste of real field work and our findings will contribute to a better understanding of a rather specialised ecosystem.

Lastly a big thanks to Holger Horn of Philippine Fun Divers for sponsoring tanks and weights for the duration of the expedition.

In The Field

Celebrating environmental education day

The 18th of July concluded MCP’s first environmental education day (first of many monthly trips to come with the Zamboanguita Science High School). The day began with a tour of Siit Arboretum, the site of the MCP camp, by botanist Eric Hanquinet. The 37 kids actively listened to Eric as he explained the different medicinal properties of the plant species in the 10 hectare botanical garden, as well as snacking on our mulberry trees. After a quick breather the children had an introduction to MCP’s work as well as watched a few short and fun videos on the essential symbiotic relationship of coral reefs, mangroves and seagrass.

Marine life games!!

Our first activity with the children was an origami session in which we created paper sea animals such as turtles, crabs, and butterfly fish. The motivation behind the activity was to stimulate a curiosity within the children for the different variations of natural camouflages and essentially to have them think about how we can learn from nature through techniques such as biomimicry. The children were then asked to camouflage their coloured animals somewhere in the arboretum, and later in the day, went out to see if they could find them again. The game ended with a winner who had 3 of her animals not been found in the garden.

After a delicious lunch (a Filipino classic, Pancit) the team went back out into the garden to play a game of Marine Life Stratego. The adapted activity was designed to teach the children about food chains and how human interference, such as overfishing or excessive littering, can lead to dysfunctional numbers of predators and prey. The game consisted of the players taking on the characters of marine animals and attempting to tag animals at lower levels of the food chain whilst avoiding those in higher levels than them. When certain species were depleted, the children noticed the relative rise and fall in populations of other species. The kids completely immersed themselves in the game which honed in on their strategical thought processes and proved to be an exhilarating activity.

The day proved to be a success and it was our pleasure to have worked with such enthusiastic and motivated students who are driven by their interest in science and conservation work.

The Life in-between Science and Community

During our Hinagdanan cave exploration on Bohol, we met one evening with our friends from the Zoox Educational Programme who are now on Panglao and Moalboal to carry out Green Fins assessments with local dive schools and to work on their personal assignment.

Dinner at the long table. More chat and drinks!

The volunteers of the Zoox Experience Program (ZEP) are actively pursuing a career in marine conservation. The program runs for eight weeks which helps them in acquiring the necessary skills and experience. The first two weeks took place in the MCP base. Our volunteers and staff had the opportunity to sit in on most of the modules and learn more about subject such as sea grass monitoring, marine conservation, important players in the field of marine conservation (prospective employers!), the Green Fins program, Shark conservation and much more.

Heard about Green fins program?

The idea of the Green Fins program is to help commercial dive centers improve their environmental profile and reduce any negative impact of dive tourism on fragile environments. This is achieved by private public partnerships and regular assessments carried out by the ZEP students, who are trained to become Green Fins assessors during the first two weeks with the Zoox educators.

For MCP volunteers and staff, it was a fun two weeks of learning more about marine conservation seen in the perspective of professional career development. The ZEP participants had to work really hard to prepare several presentations and take in tons of additional information to better prepare for their personal assignment. The Zoox educators did a marvelous job, and the Zoox program is very much recommended by us!

In the evenings, it was time to share good moments and war stories from the trenches of marine conservation. With more than twenty people on base that turned into a lot of brain-picking fun.

The last night we all celebrated the completion of the first two academic weeks for the ZEP participants, with a typical big Filipino party that lasted until the early morning.


Fish are very interesting! Some species grow up as male, others as female and change sex later in life. Some fish are born without a gender and develop one when needed. Did you know that the cute little anemonefish family you see in an anemone is not a family at all? The biggest fish is the female, the smaller one the male and the cute little kids are not their kids and they are genderless. When something happens to mom, dad turns into mom and one of the kids turn into dad. Other fish species are slightly less bizarre. They just start their live as female and turn into male when necessary, like the parrotfish. But not only the change in sex makes a parrotfish interesting.

Parrotfish have a useful diet. They scrape the algae from the rubble, and sometimes from the reef as well and thus preventing algae overgrowth. Because of their scraping behavior they digest a lot of extra material they do not eat. And that extra material is the most important for us beach lovers: they grind rock and reef into really fine sand, which they excrete. If you stay close to a parrotfish for a while, you will notice that they poo quite a lot. You regularly see clouds of sand trailing behind a parrotfish. These clouds eventually end up on land and the crystal clear white sand you see there is the evidence of parrotfish on the reef; their poo is all over the place. It even turns out that some islands are almost entirely made up of their poo. Want to know more? Have a look here. The species which produces the most poo is the Bumphead parrotfish. Much overfished, because they are so large and eat in schools, their jaws are so big that they eat a lot of live hard coral besides the algae and can do quite some damage to a coral reef. The BBC made some interesting footage about their destructive behavior.

MCP is interested in which fish species occur where on our different dive locations for our baseline study. If we know this, we can set up a long term monitoring program and look for any disturbances (natural or human). Currently we are trying to find out which parrotfish we have, besides some other families. Anybody who ever paid a little attention to parrotfish will acknowledge that identifying different species is not easy, as our volunteers will readily agree. At first glance they all look more or less the same, but fortunately if you look closely you will start to see some differences. But even now, after more than a dozen dives looking for them we discover more species every week. Bumphead parrotfish we do not see (any more), but with 21 other species the variety of parrotfish is quite big.

More collaborations!
Starting this June of 2015 until August of 2017, MCP will be partnering with the UK-based environmental organisation Zoox. The Zoox team is conducting their first two weeks of their flagship program, the Zoox Education Programme (ZEP), teaching their students as well as MCP volunteers valuable in-depth lessons and modules about the field of conservation.

What is Zoox? Zoox was born out of a wish to create better opportunities and clearer pathways for passionate individuals who want to advance their career in the area of marine conservation. Zoox offers a unique professional development service that enables experienced divers with an interest in marine conservation to develop their skills needed to be successful in their career. MCP is very pleased to be able to facilitate this high-level education on our base, and we look immensely forward to working together with Zoox in the future.

Expedition Background

The world around us is changing and marine ecosystems are in more peril than ever before. Realizing this urgency, we bring people with diverse backgrounds and skills together to build financial, social and scientific capacity to respond to unprecedented threats to food security, societal stability and ocean health.

We believe it is our collective responsibility to act and affect meaningful change, and that it is only through the choices we make and in how we influence others that we can ensure the world we are building will continue to include thriving and life-supporting marine ecosystems.

To realize this vision we have worked tirelessly since 2015 to educate the public and influential decision makers to recognize the immeasurable value of the marine ecosystem, vastly improving the societal and natural environment of the Philippines, now and in the future.


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