Monday, June 4, 2012

SEAS and rain

As I mentioned in previous post, the five of us volunteers on Guimaras Island took on the big project of putting on an environmental camp. Denise and Jensen worked on writing and submitting a grant (which was approved) and then found us a venue for the camp. The small village of Tando in Guimaras is quite far from the main part of town and takes a couple hours to get to while driving over mostly unpaved road. But this small and far community is a gem of Guimaras and made for the perfect place for our camps!

A few years back Guimaras was the victim of an oil spill which greatly affected the marine area surrounding Tando. But the people of Tando care a lot about their resources and have since been working to restore them. They started a mangrove nursery and assist in mangrove plantings not just in Tando but all of Guimaras. Tando is also the site of a new marine protected area that Jensen helped to establish. The coastal resources there are now recovering and the people are very supportive of such projects. They were more than happy to host us and our camp. Over the week of the camps we really got to know the community as they housed us and assisted us with the camp. The Tando Community is full of amazing people who live humbly and take care of their environment. 

The environmental camp, named SEAS – Stewards of the Environment and Advocates of the Seas, consisted of two 3-day camps over the course of a week. The first camp was attended by over 70 students from the 16 high schools on the island; all were members of the environment club at their school. The second camp was focused on youth from villages with reserves, specifically the communities that Rob, Jensen and I work with to establish our new marine protected areas. Community counterparts were integral in planning the activities, leading discussions during the camp, and ensuring the facilitates were equipped to accommodate the influx of people, from setting up a makeshift electrical system (since the school did not have electricity) to hauling over 800 jugs of well water for bathing and cooking (…or running water).

The purpose of the camp was to teach the participants what they could do to protect their environment, with a focus on the newly-established MPAs.  The first day gave participants the foundations in coastal ecosystems (me), MPAs (Rob), communication skills (Stacey), and leadership (Denise).  The day was topped off with a coastal clean-up and the viewing of a BBC Blue Planet episode, which was meticulously dubbed in Tagalog.  

Getting to know each other.
team building games
 On the second day, in addition to learning about solid waste management through bottle bricks and magazine bead-making, participants went snorkeling inside the Tan-Luc MPA.  For most campers, it was their first experience using snorkel gear and seeing what lies beneath the surface of the ocean.  In the afternoon, participants and facilitators braved high tides and deep mud to plant 1,000 mangrove propagules nearby.  On the final day of the camp, participants conducted community perception interviews to gauge the community's knowledge of the MPA and also to practice sharing with others what they had learned about the environment.  Before the closing program, we held small group discussions to prepare participants on how they can take what they’ve learned at the camp and apply it to where they live.  Each participant made a bracelet to remind themselves of their commitment to the seas.

making bottle bricks!
going snorkeling in the MPA!
making more bottle bricks
ready to take out the next group for some snorkeling fun!
planting mangrove propugules
performing community interviews - learning what the community knows and sharing what they have learned
team bonding
discussing how they can take what they have learned and apply it to where they live
the kids leaving camp, so sad!

We plan on following up with the high schools and coastal communities to monitor progress and to offer any advice or assistance for future projects.  We hope to help the youth apply and share their knowledge and excitement about the MPAs with the rest of their communities.  

SEAS Camp #1 with high school youth
SEAS Camp#2 with coastal youth
us volunteers with some SEAS campers after their community pageant (we stayed an extra day to show support for  the youth in the pageant and they won!)
As for the MPA  (marine protected area) that I am working on with my community, we are making progress with the construction of the guardhouse! I also recently bought (with the grant funds) supplies to make marker buoys. As with a lot of this project, I depend on the knowledge of the fisherfolk and other community members. I am not sure the best way to make a buoy (and apparently there are many ways), so I left that decision up to the community. They just told me what supplies to get and this is what they came up with…
our marker buoys for the new marine protected area
 Unfortunately rainy season has started early again.. we had planned on putting the buoys out today but when we got there the wind was strong and the waves too big. Hopefully the weather will clear in the next couple days so we can put out the marker buoys soon. But the rain and wind are not stopping the construction work for the guardhouse so progress continues!

working on the guardhouse!
rainy season has begun and the waves and wind were too strong to deploy the buoys that day..
Rob and I also are planning a training workshop for new Bantay Dagat (type of coast guard) for our new MPAs. The new Bantay Dagat members will be deputized and put in charge of enforcing the management of the MPA (i.e. keeping illegal fishers out). Later this month we will have the training at a local resort in Rob’s site.

These last 5 months are going fast and are staying very busy!
Until next time, halong!