Plastic Plastic Plastic

 

IMG_8238.jpgI have been so busy this past month and have learned A LOT! However, no matter where you are or what your doing solid waste is always an issue. If you think it is not an issue that’s because you live in a place where you throw your trash into a container, put that container outside, and then to never be thought of again. This trash then goes to a landfill and will sit there forever.———Like Here————->

That is not a solution that will last long. This is why it is so important to first REFUSE single use plastics and second RECYCLE what you do use.

The only real solution to the waste problem is to stop producing single use plastics. Plastic takes around 450 years to break down and then they still aren’t even completely gone. They remain as micro plastics. These micro plastics can end up in the food chain. Which can end up on your plate if you eat seafood. Who knows what this does to your body but it can’t be good. ‘Plastic Oceans’ estimate more than 8 million tons of plastics are dumped in to the ocean EVERY YEAR!

You can make an impact by changing to use less plastic. Whether it is saying no to a plastic straw in your drink, or bringing your own bags the next time you go shopping. Small steps can make a big impact! The U.S alone discards 500 million straws EVERY DAY! Every day can you believe that? That is just in the states. An item that you will use for only 30 minutes while enjoying a beverage can have a huge impact on the environment! Is a straw really all the necessary for you to drink something? Straws and plastic bags are super light and can blow away easily. This means they don’t always just end up in landfills (to sit for the rest of eternity) they can end up in the ocean. Where a poor little turtle thinks that bag is a jellyfish and eats it. I know I saw a video of a straw being pulled out of a turtles nose and it was heart breaking! So the next time you get a drink and use a straw you actually just jammed it up a turtles nose and left it forever in agonizing pain. So don’t be THAT guy who kills innocent sea life just say no!

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But seriously say no to single use plastics! 🙂

 

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She(‘)ll be Fined…

There’ll be no more terrible puns from here on in!

Let’s talk about shells. They’re pretty right? They come in all shapes and sizes, and in some you can even hear the ocean! Clearly, this means they belong around your neck, or as a perfect addition to your bathroom correct? WROOONG. In a world where climate change is already the biggest threat to life on earth for this and many generations to come. It is important to do everything we can to combat the damage already done by human activity, and this includes leaving shells in the ocean! Surprising I know, but let me explain why.

Firstly let’s talk about endangered species. We all know about charismatic megafauna; your polar bears, sharks, pandas, blue whales, dugongs, tigers and what have you. However, the damaging actions of us humans know no bounds and have reached the critters that call shells their home. As of September 2016 the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) lists 581 critically endangered mollusc species, and 11 subspecies, including 117 which are tagged as possibly extinct. Not only that but there are 511 species and 6 subspecies of gastropod assessed as critically endangered. Molluscs are invertebrates of a large phylum that includes snails, mussels, oysters, octopus and squid. Gastropods are a large class of mollusc which includes whelks. Simply put, all gastropods are molluscs but not all molluscs are gastropods.

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What does all of this mean for you? Well, it’s classic supply and demand! If you buy a pretty shell for jewellery or decoration, this shows a demand and therefore encourages people to go and kill more marine life for their shells to supply the increase in demand. This is not as easy a problem to solve as you might think. Here in Panglao my comments have been met with stubborn yet funny remarks by charismatic chaps just trying to make a living. They really don’t care about laws or indeed, their safety. The last time we visited a shell seller, for a photo, I explained some simple ecology of the textile cone shell (circled 1). “If you pick up this animal while it is alive, it has a venom strong enough to kill you in minutes” I said. This was met with a hearty laugh and a comment that he knew this already. We tried a different tactic: “If I was to try to take these 3 shells (circled 2; one of which is the beautiful Nautilus – not how I pictured seeing my first one!) out of the Philippines, I would be fined PHP120,000 and/or thrown in jail for 20 years”. Again this was met with a laugh and the cheeky comment of “no, only one of the shells sir” well that’s okay then!

“Well Daniel, I won’t buy shells anymore I’ll just take them straight outta the ocean for free!” I hear you cry, and with rather a smug face I might add. But whoa now, hold your horses. I knew you were going to say that and lucky for you I’m still here to be your personal ‘Debbie-Downer’. It’s a tough job but someone’s got to do it. OCEAN ACIDIFICATION! Part of such a big problem, the phrase needs to be shouted. If you’re sick of hearing about it, that means it’s probably time to do something about it.

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The world’s oceans and seas are naturally alkaline. This is due to the salt and mineral content of the water. Now, because of increased levels of atmospheric CO2, the pH of the oceans is being pushed away from it’s natural alkalinity towards neutral (pH 7). This may not seem like a problem, but it is. Levels of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere are higher than they have been at any time in the past 400,000 years. In 2013 the level surpassed 400ppm for the first time in recorded history. However, without our oceans these terrifying figures would be much worse. 25% of atmospheric CO2 is absorbed and stored by our oceans and marine ecosystems.

Shells play an important role in combating this problem as well. They are made out of calcium carbonate, the same ‘salt’ that makes up a coral’s exoskeleton. When shells break down and erode due to wave action, this essential calcium carbonate can be reused by corals, to help them remain strong and resilient in a time when threats to their existence are around every corner. It is a natural cycle that should not be broken, but we humans seem to be experts in these sorts of thing. I’d say its time to change! Every ecosystem is linked and coral reefs, mangroves and seagrass beds are no different. Each play a vital role in carbon sequestration (storage), a key weapon in the fight against climate change and ocean acidification.

So next time you think about buying a shell or taking them on a dive or from the beach remember they are much too important to remove from their home. Not to mention you could be robbing a future home from an adorable hermit crab!

Ps. As a final note I think I need to reassure people that I am having an amazing time in the Philippines, I just love a good moan. Also, I’d like to say RIP Chester Bennington. Your excellent music has helped me plough through; 1) this blog post, and 2) the difficult times of my childhood. Legend.

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It’s more fun in the Philippines

Over the last two weeks the Filipino tourism slogan “It’s more fun in the Philippines” has been thrown around quite sarcastically.

 

“It’s been three days since we’ve had electricity.. It’s more fun in the Philippines!”

 

“I got so hot last night I thought I had dengue fever.. It’s more fun in the Philippines!”

 

“The storm blew a hole in the roof.. It’s more fun in the Philippines!

 

After my ear infection hit for the second time, putting me out of diving for another week my personal sarcasm levels definitely hit the roof. My quest to be seen by a doctor was more difficult than I anticipated. There are two clinics on Panglao island that I had become familiar with during the first ear infection. The first, I avoided as I knew that all I would find there would be a sign on the door saying “Doctor on holidays.. Back in one month”. The second clinic was were I had been successful the first time, so my journey began there. I was welcomed back by the same concerned nurse from my first visit, “hey it’s the Irish diver with the sore ear!”. But the warm welcome was followed by the sad news that their doctor had also decided to head away on holidays and would be “back in a few days”.  And so I hopped on a bike and made the sweaty (and dizzy, thanks to my ear) journey to Tagbilaran city.

Just when you think you’re getting used to life in Asia, a trip to a built up area is enough to set your unjust confidence straight. Finding my way around is something I’ve accepted I’ll never be great at.. But crossing the road is a skill I’d like to have thought I’d mastered quite some time ago. Not so much here.. But thankfully my habal-habal driver noticed my struggling as I stood at the edge of the road for just long enough to be embarrassing and stepped out in front of the moving traffic, slowing it down long enough for me to make my way to the hospital (pride slightly damaged).

After two hospitals informing me they were full for the day and to come back tomorrow I must have been looking a bit defeated as I was offered help by another kind stranger. This time, a police man who called me a tricycle and insisted on making the journey with me to another hospital to make sure I was seen to. It was still unsuccessful – but the gesture was nice. I did however manage to secure an appointment for the next morning, which involved seeing the inside of my ear on a t.v screen and various terrifying looking cleaning devices. I left the hospital feeling like it was the first time I was hearing properly in my life. Pain gone, dizziness gone, hearing back. Is this what having super powers feels like!?

After the second ear infection I was also feeling much more cautious. I returned back to the local clinic in Panglao two or three more times for a quick check up to make sure I was fit to get back in the water. The doctor, who at this stage laughed a little every time I wandered in, would look so guilty as he’d tell me “maybe just a few days more”.  Clearly torn between keeping me from losing my ear and ruining my fun. He was also so fantastically kind. Refusing to let me pay for any consultations after my first visit and much to the irritation of the other waiting patients, giving my ear a quick examination immediately after I arrived. It was almost sad to get the all clear and to leave hoping it would be my last visit.

When I imagined this scenario playing out back in Ireland, I couldn’t help but feel a bit homesick. I thought of the simplicity of getting in the car, driving to the doctor, receiving a prescription, going home and waiting it out until I was better. This was when I realised just how accurate the sarcastic remarks actually were. Yes, it would be more convenient back home, but where’s the fun in that? No bike rides around the island, no personal police chaperone, no making friends with drivers, doctors, nurses, no real feeling of having accomplished something when it’s over. With just over two weeks left in the Philippines I will definitely be monitoring by sarcasm because I know once I am home I will soon miss the adventure that was in the everyday activities. From cooking by candle light during the power cuts, to the barber that somehow managed to power his entire shop by hooking it up to his motorbike engine.  It really is more fun in the Philippines!

 

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Making pasta in the dark.. It’s more fun in the Philippines!

 

 

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Cool Down

Unbleach

It is all about climate change nowadays. And with good reason! More and more people experience this at first hand. The seasons are getting confused as a consequence of global warming. I got surprised myself by the monsoon (rainy season) arriving one month earlier than normal in Cambodia, impacting the diving conditions greatly. Rising sea water temperatures causes corals to bleach. Bleaching is a coral’s natural response to severe stress, and if the stress persists for too long, corals can die. In addition, bleached corals become more vulnerable to disease.   Mass coral bleaching events are becoming more frequent due to our greenhouse gas emissions.

And why there are still people denying global warming, Mother Nature has just made herself clear. Only a couple of days ago a massive iceberg broke off from the Antarctica ice shelf. It is estimated the iceberg that is now drifting through the Southern Ocean would be about 620 feet (190 metres) thick and harbour some 277 cubic miles (1,155 cubic kilometres) of frozen water. That’s big enough to fill more than 460 million Olympic-size swimming pools with ice, or nearly all of Lake Michigan – one of the largest freshwater reservoirs in the world!  Due to the rapid rising of temperatures in West Antarctica, ice shelves are becoming more fragile than ever. Not only does this massive iceberg pose a security risk to maritime traffic, its separation could cause other glaciers to drift into the Atlantic Ocean and melt, which could raise the global water mark by 10 centimetres.

Sea level rises will cause floods and leave entire villages blank. People will have to leave their homes and find shelter elsewhere. Such climate refugees will put even more pressure on the already basic infrastructure in developing countries, unavoidable leading to conflicts. And while this is an enormous task to be tackled by governments, there are a few easy lifehacks that can help us to reduce our CO2 footprint to help slow down this process while governments continue pointing fingers at each other.

  • Go public! As I do not have a car, I am already a loyal customer of public transportation. For a long time, I commuted between home and work for 3 hours a day. And while this wasn’t always a joyride, I still got more things done than if I would have taken a car. I had time to read the newspaper, respond to texts and emails, to read that book I never got around to, or just to enjoy my power nap. I didn’t have to pay for fuel or insurance or parking tickets and waste my time finding parking spots or being stuck in traffic jams.
  • Buy local food and cut the beef and dairy as much as possible! It is often cheaper and while we are reducing our CO2 footprint, we are also supporting the local economy.
  • Save energy! Just remind to turn off lights, heating, air-conditioning and other electric appliances when leaving the room. Also replacing light bulbs with LED lights, insulating the house and installing solar panels will do the trick, while saving on electricity bills the same time.
  • Go paperless! Think twice before printing out a 100-page report and ask phone operators and electricity providers to send the bills electronically. Forests and mangroves are true carbon sinks, capturing billions of CO2 in the atmosphere.

Unfortunately, the train doesn’t take me to all destinations.  In Europe, ‘Blablacar’ is a car sharing initiative which is cheap, fast, safe and very user friendly.  However, to go outside Europe, I am often bound to take an airplane to reach my travel destinations. As these planes are not yet running on third generation biofuel, my carbon footprint is increasing every time I buckle my seatbelt and listen to the safety instructions. Carbon offsetting is a way to reduce the emissions that  can’t be avoided. It both helps to combat global climate change as well as caring for local communities by carefully selecting a project to support. In many instances it can provide much needed employment, health improvement, biodiversity and broad social benefits to impoverished communities.  As a first step, calculate and measure your carbon footprint on websites such as http://www.carbonfootprint.com/calculator.aspx and http://www.nature.org/greenliving/ carboncalculator/index.htm and secondly, offset any unavoidable carbon emissions by selecting a carbon offset project.

As a final conclusion, I would like to say we cannot ‘buy’ our way out of the responsibility. Before offsetting emissions, we have to minimize our individual impact on the planet first, whether it be traveling, getting to work, shopping, eating, or buying coffee in the corner café instead of a Starbucks. In doing so, we can each make small, everyday changes that, when combined, will go a long way in curbing global warming.

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Life Anew as a Green Fins Assessor

I cannot get over how friendly and people here are. With the obvious exception of the endless horde of people trying to sell you “trips to see the whales in Oslob”, (I mean, I’m here for six weeks, remember my face I don’t ever want to go to Oslob to see these phantom whales, or the hand-fed, boat scarred sharks…) life is quite pleasant here in Panglao at low season. Sure, over-development is coming and land that used to be beautiful mangrove forest is now filled with half finished resorts on land snapped up by greedy businessmen with a severe lack of foresight. That’s not even mentioning the international airport coming in 2018 that the island of Bohol really isn’t ready for. However, the people here remain ‘ever-chipper’ and ready to lend a helping hand, talk about life and how Panglao has changed. Sometimes for the good, and how lucky they feel that Green Fins assessors are here to save Panglao’s great coral reefs, and seemingly rid the island of all it’s problems. A daunting task not for the faint hearted believe me!

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The New Me.
Adapting to life in the Philippines has been fairly straight forward and I have always been relatively environmentally conscious but a new thing I am attempting for this trip is to decrease my consumption of meat. This is something that I have always found difficult for some reason. Growing up, the only meat I enjoyed was chicken, and my attitude was if there’s no meat on the plate I’m not going to be full up. A statement that couldn’t be further from the truth: I’ll never be full up regardless of what’s on the plate! As a late-comer to steak and pork I rather stubbornly have never wanted to give them up, but how often do you have steak really? It’s a rare treat, and so it should be. I can proudly state that I haven’t had KFC for 10+ years, it’s gross but I do miss the coleslaw and gravy. Also I haven’t eaten tuna for 7 years, least of all because rare tuna steak from the bbq covered in lemon and black pepper is a taste that won’t be beaten (and a memory I shall treasure forever) but it just isn’t sustainable (see Miss Rutten’s blog).

A Bit of Good Old-fashioned Moaning
What I don’t get with fish is why no-one seems to care. Why can people happily call themselves vegetarian, but still eat fish? Why is it that people fight incredibly hard to rescue one Killer Whale or Dolphin from captivity but are perfectly okay with the idea that fish get crushed to death under a tonne of other fish in nets every 5 minutes? The phrase, “out of sight, out of mind” comes vividly to my mind. I’ve never understood Shark-fin soup either, the fin is tasteless and provides zero nutrients and I’ve never been one for traditions they seem bad, old-fashioned and down-right stupid (Bull fighting for example). Anyway I digress, it’s the grumpy English-man in me, but it makes me sad to see severely undersized parrot fis4h and grouper, that look about 6 months old, at fish markets. Educating the future generations is so, so important!

Settling In.
After a week here I have already found my favourite cheap eatery where I can feast like a king for £1.70, the best and also cheapest cup of coffee, and the dive guides and manager I shall miss the most when my time in Panglao comes to an end. At this stage I feel quietly confident about my role as a Green Fins assessor. Feeling comfortable about all the individual tasks one must achieve to complete the assessment, from the often tedious task of organising it in the first place. To delivering the feedback session and writing the report and feedback email. However, the same cannot be said about the daunting personal project set out before me. At this early stage it all seems far too overwhelming and too much for one person to hope to fix. I am encouraged though by the consultations with dive managers that I have held so far. Each having said that the issues that come with the emerging diving markets, are lessening already and they have began to tackle the problem rather effectively (if they do say so themselves), with one manager even suggesting that Green Fins is doing all it can to help already! Tut, tut and shame on you sir, Green Fins can always do more! I can only hope that at the end of these 6 weeks I can be proud of what I’ve achieved.

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From Rags to Riches…. Maybe

After spending two weeks in the jungle, which was a party of mosquitoes, we went to a house with a pool…. Now I feel pretty glamorous. From living in an open hut with a mosquito net, to a house with windows with screens (big deal). I don’t have to spray mosquito repellent on before bed and I would call that a win. Basically I am really enjoying Panglao I mean who wouldn’t we have our own pool! While I really enjoyed my time at Zamboangete, Panglao has been a little bit nicer to me. Working by the pool and taking a break in the pool is how I want my life to be. Walking 20 minutes to the beach for work is also not a bad way to live. Needless to say I need the sun and the sea to survive.

 

After writing that there was an earthquake and we have not had power for 24 hours now. I was in the mist of setting up a presentation when the power went out. So then I had ten people huddled around my computer. Not what I was prepared for but you just have to take what you can get here in the Philippines. Some said the last time there was an earthquake close to here the power was out for ten days!!! If you are reading this send good vibes this way for power 🙂  Currently sitting at a bar for power and wifi getting looks as to why I am not buying anything else after my one cup of coffee……for three hours now.

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An Ode to the Code

 

Where would we all be without the Green Fins Code of Conduct?

 

I for one, would probably be sitting at home in Ireland in the rain, wondering what to do with my life. But more importantly, nearly 500 dive centres across South East Asia would be less environmentally aware. The Green Fins Code of Conduct are fifteen guidelines which range from not touching marine life to promoting environmental education to staff and guests, all with the same goal to ultimately decrease a dive centres impact on the environment.

 

In preparation for my first Green Fins assessment, I studied the Code of Conduct in the only way I know how – making weird mnemonics that vaguely relate to the subject I’m trying to remember. I’ve shared my strange method with my fellow assessors who have encouraged me to make it an entire blog topic.

 

And so behold, back by popular demand, my comprehensive Ode to the Code:

One – Let’s have some fun. Setting up your assessment..

  • Adopt the Green Fins Mission statement

 

Two – How about you?? Do you have your Green Fins agreements on display?

  • Display the adopted Green Fins agreement for the public to see

 

Three – What about me?? Are you a good role model?

  • Adhere to the Green Fins Friendly Diving and Snorkelling Guidelines and act as a responsible role model for guests

 

Four – Look at the floor! Clean it up!

  • Participate in regular underwater clean-ups at dive operator selected sites

 

Five – Time to dive (without an anchor).. Use mooring buoys

  • Participate in the development and implementation of a mooring buoy program and actively use moorings, drift or hand place anchors for boats

 

Six – Don’t be a d!ck.. Leave the marine life in the ocean

  • Prohibit the sales of corals and other marine life at the dive operation

 

Seven – Eleven fish.. That I monitored and reported 

  • Participate in regular coral reef monitoring and report coral reef monitoring data to a regional coral reef database

 

Eight – Grab a mate.. And dispose of your trash properly!

  • Provide adequate garbage facilities on board facilities vessel and deal with responsibly

 

Nine – It’s a crime.. to not operate under a minimum discharge policy (not really, but it should be)

  • Operate under a ‘minimum discharge’ policy

 

Ten – You broke the law again? Go to jail! Know your local laws.

  • Abide by all local, regional, national and international environmental laws, regulations and customs

 

Eleven – You’re going to heaven. And it won’t be a brief time. Environmental briefing

  • Provide guests with an explanation of Green Fins’ Frindly Diving and Snorkelling Guidelines in pre dive briefings

 

Twelve – Twelve months in year. Annual training

  • Provide training, briefing or literature for employees and guests regarding good environmental practises for snorkelling, diving, boating, marine wildlife interaction and other marine recreational activities

 

Thirteen – You’re keen.. To learn about the environment

  • Provide staff and guests with public awareness and environmental materials (ID books, pamphlets etc)

 

Fourteen – You’ve got a spleen.. Which relative to the size of the body is about the same ratio of MPAs to the size of the ocean. * Know your MPAS (At this point it was getting difficult to come up with rhymes, I’m sorry)

  • Provide guests with information on local Marine Protected Areas, environmental rules and regulations

 

Fifteen.. Not quite 16.. No touch! 

Promote a strict ‘no touch’ policy for all reef diving and snorkelling.

GF

*Not actually an accurate fact. Like I said, I was running out of rhymes and it was so ridiculous it stuck in my memory.

This blog post was casually approved by Alan Kavanagh and all credit for Code of Conduct 15 rhyme goes to Daniel Sadd. 

 

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Life Hacks

The internet is all about life hacks nowadays. Simple solutions to everyday nuisances that simply make your life easier.  During my travels, these prove to be very handy. From saving space in my bag by stuffing shoes with underwear and (sun)glasses, rolling clothes instead of folding, wrapping my soapbar in the box of playing cards and using MapsMe so that I never can get lost. You can literally find any lifehack online.

But I also learned some very handy tips and tricks to become a responsible traveler. For example, I realized after two months that there were some pieces of clothing I had hardly worn. I simply gave it away to a fellow traveler or any second-hand market was happy to take it from me. That way they can make some extra money and I am travelling lighter and get extra space for all those new t-shirts I am getting for being a volunteer.

# Fishhugger

Another thing I discovered during my journey and participating in marine conservation projects is that I easily stopped eating fish. Learning about the destructive fishing practices that destroy the corals and marine habitat, but also the overfishing that leads to extinction of many species, I simply couldn’t eat it anymore.

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But I know for many that have not shared this experience, it is not that easy to give it up. Well, if you do wish to contribute something, consider giving up shrimp, tuna and shark fin soup. Now why is the consumption of these particular species so bad? Most fishing gear is not selective. This means that as well as the ‘target’ species of fish it catches (such as shrimp and tuna), any number of non-target species may also be hauled in. This incidental catch of other species is referred to as ‘bycatch’. Globally, it’s estimated that a quarter of what is caught is wasted – thrown back into the sea dead because it has no commercial value!

The fisheries with the highest levels of bycatch are shrimp fisheries – often over 80 per cent of a catch comprises marine species other than shrimp. All types of marine life including whales, dolphins, porpoises, fur seals, albatrosses and turtles are killed as bycatch. Even feared predators like sharks are killed in their millions each year. Tuna fisheries, which in the past had high dolphin bycatch levels, are still responsible for the deaths of an estimated one million sharks annually. But also, many environmental groups such as the Pew Charitable Trust warn that the Pacific bluefin tuna are at risk of extinction unless a two-year ban on commercial fishing is put in place. As this is unlikely to happen in the short term, you can already reduce your personal tuna consumption to help avoid this. In addition, do you know the Shark Fin Soup you can order at the local Chinese restaurant? This actually causes dead to 23-73 million sharks per year. The removal and retention of fins happens onboard a fishing vessel whilst the body of the shark is discarded, an extremely wasteful practice as less than 10% of the shark is used! The most sustainable seafood would be Octopus or Calamari as they are caught at night with light, so this is not disturbing the seabed or doesn’t lead to any bycatch. Want to know more about sustainable seafood? Download the useful the Good Fish Guide app and stay up to date with the Fish of the month!

Now what about meat? I am aware of the abuses going on in the slaughterhouses and the detrimental impact of livestock and agriculture on deforestation and climate change. But I must admit giving up meat proves to be more difficult as it is more integrated in my traditional diet, (and I must admit I simply love a good hamburger once in a while). Where I come from, every Thursday people join ‘Veggieday’. You can step it up by joining the annual 40 days without meet challenge. A first small step that has a big impact. At Marine Conservation Philippines, we would only eat meat on Tuesdays and Saturdays. And we are continuing that tradition now in Panglao. The vegetarian options in Asia are absolutely delicious and great in variety. So why not try it out? Plus it saves money as extra incentive.

# Refill, no Landfill

Unavoidable when travelling in Asia is you will be confronted with an immense waste problem. People just love plastic for no apparent reason. Only the other day when I went for groceries, they will put every wet object in a separate plastic bag. Butter? In a plastic bag! Vegetables? Oww another plastic bag! Frozen? That deserves another plastic bag. And all that goes in two three other plastic bags. Knowing 8 million tonnes of plastic per year finds its way into the ocean, I am looking for ways to minimise my plastic footprint. Learning to say no to plastic bags is a habit that after a couple of days I mastered easily by taking a backpack with me. Another lifehack and my personal best investment ever was a reusable drink bottle. Since I started my projects four months ago, I have bought four plastic water bottles! All the other times I was perfectly able to find a shop that could refill my bottle – very often for free. Imagine all the water you need to drink to stay hydrated in this climate and all these bottles ending up in a landfill as recycling is not a common practice here. By just refilling your bottle you have tremendous impact on reducing landfill. You need takeaway? Take your lunchbox or ask a cardboard box instead of plastic! And learn to say no to straws. It looks like people have forgotten how to drink from their glass as they need straws for everything, juice, soda, iced latte, cocktail,… just sip it as in the good old days. And if you really cannot do without a straw, consider investing in a reusable bamboo straw. They look cool and you’ll steal the show inspiring potentially one or two other people. Go check out the Clean Seas Campaign for more information and easy ways to minimize your plastic footprint. And by adopting these small changes, you can truly make a difference. And as the Dalai Lama puts it “If you think you are too small to have an impact, try going to bed with a mosquito in the room!”

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Accidentally traveling light

“Are you ok?”

“Why are you on your own?”

“Where are your parents?”

 

Did I really look that helpless arriving into Manila two weeks ago? I thought I was doing pretty well on my first time solo trip. No missed flights, everything on time, I even managed to navigate through four different airports without getting hopelessly lost (a big feat for me, being navigationally challenged). There was the minor issue of my luggage with all of my belongings being nowhere to be found… But I was being uncharacteristically calm about the situation – and the lovely Filipino woman who demanded the airport offered me a free night in a hotel made me smile, even if they laughed and refused.

 

When you arrive here you learn very quickly that not much works as you would expect it to. I had mentally prepared myself for culture shock so I found it was actually the small things that surprised me. I still haven’t gotten the hang of queuing in public bathrooms… But the saga of the missing bag was what really hammered the lesson home. After five long days of wearing the same sweaty clothes,  I made a 2-hour journey by habal-habal, bus and tricycle from our base at MCP in Zamboanguita back to Dumaguete airport. The sheer relief when I could see my bag stored in a cargo building was short lived when the security told me they were closed and I was to return at 6am the next morning.

“But it’s right therrrrrreeee!”

“But I’ve been waiting for daysssss!”

No luck. It’s not often you stop to consider an airport closes down when the sun goes down, but that’s Dumaguete for you.

 

All the traveling had turned my many bites ugly and I was getting eaten alive arguing with the guards. I swear, if I get Dengue Fever from this whole ordeal Aer Lingus will be hearing from me. Feeling defeated and sweaty I retreated back to a hostel for the night. At least I’d get a good nights sleep from the adventure… Wrong again. Having found myself in a last-minute room basically placed on the busy main road of Dumaguete coupled with being covered head to toe in heat rash left me missing my bed in MCP.  I eventually reunited with my bag the following morning, and even made it back in time to MCP for our first day snorkelling.  I will be forever grateful to the habal-habal driver who managed to fit my 25kg bag on his handlebars, myself on the back and manoeuvre through the massive puddles of mud left from the rain on the rough road back to base. Thanks Gerry, you’re the real MVP!

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It’s funny to think back to those first few days now on to my third week here, sitting on the balcony of our mansion in Panglao (not technically a mansion – but it at least feels like a mansion after living in one room with six people for two weeks). In hindsight, I may have overreacted on day one when my taxi driver took a wrong turn and my immediate thought was “I’m being kidnapped”. I also still cringe at myself for accepting the drivers’ word at the airport when he assured me that 2,000 pesos was a set price for a transfer from terminal 1 to terminal 3. But, despite some initial newbie falters, I’m pleased to say I’m alive. I’ve managed to improve my haggling skills and have yet to collapse from dehydration or sun burn. We’ve probably squeezed a year worth of lectures, experience and training into two weeks and it’s only the beginning. But what’s the main lesson learned from weeks 1 & 2?….

 

 

I’ve packed way too much!

 

 

 

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Getting Back To Life In The Philippines

It has been nearly two weeks since I began my 29+ hour travel experience from London Heathrow to my eventual destination of Dumaguete in the Visayas region of the Philippines. The journey was surprisingly pleasant and incident free.
It began, like I said in a busy and multi-cultural Heathrow airport. With trepidation over the increased security a direct result of the current global situation, I breezed through security with no mention of the rather alien looking Regulators in my hand luggage that are so often questioned. After a rather amusing exchange with a particularly jolly security official regarding my lack of sleep and general lack of common sense, as well as a lot of British style ‘pleases’ and ‘thank you sirs’, I was home free.
I struggle to sleep on planes, especially planes that provide me with endless movies and TV shows, beer and endless food, and 9 short hours later I found myself in Oman. With barely enough time to blink before my connecting flight to Manila, I audibly groaned at the thought of another security check. This time I wasn’t so lucky. In full view and in the way of everyone’s progress, a guard asked me to empty my bag. With various clothes splayed across a conveyor belt he stared perplexed at the set of hoses looking back at him. Thankfully, a co-worker with the largest assault rifle i’ve ever seen reassured everyone that he’d seen it before and I was free to go. PHEW!
Another 8 hours of limited sleep later I arrived at Manila airport, with a change to sleep in my favourite dark spot of terminal 3. It wasn’t meant to be however, with a few grumbles about change and ‘the man’ I walked away in my defeat as my favourite sleeping place was now a Starbucks.
With a final push and an hour and a half long flight I finally made it to Dumaguete. With 24 hours of spare time ahead of me I familiarised myself with the sights and sounds of the city. Sampling food, and various modes of transport with varying levels of success. FYI if you have the option of a tricycle but they’re charging 10 pesos more than the correct rate and won’t budge, take it! The walk across Dumaguete city in midday sun is not worth that 20 pence you manage to save.

 

Arrival day

Thus began life at MCP. Where do I begin? The food, the people and the setting were all fantastic. Not to mention the amazing bunch of doggos all with differing personalities and quirks. My favourite had to be the regal and majestic compass though, a delight to be around! The unforgettable two weeks I spent here have been truly great. Exploring the area, in particular Casaroro Falls, learning about all the different projects and internships happening in one place and meeting so many different people from all walks of life. I cannot think of a better place to complete the training for the Zoox programme. I only hope I can go back again one day. Hopefully to do some serious stats, but even just for the infamous Saturday nights, great trees, and the basketball hoop.

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