Forever ago…

My last blog post was forever ago. I think it was week 3. Maybe. It’s now week 8. The last week. Already? If Stef hadn’t left this morning I wouldn’t have believed myself. Week 8 already?? Actually, I can believe it. My body is telling me that it’s week 8 – it’s not actually speaking to me – that would be silly…it’s far too tired to talk. It’s been hectic in the best possible way. We were “unleashed” as Lizzie put it around the time of Garbage Day. Chloe and JJ had some emancipating to do as Zoox “parents” through individual chats about our personal projects, skill development, Green Fins coordination…and then it was up to us. We divided the dive centres between us and started organizing assessments, training and the trusty white board. Through team work and the favourite Filipino form of communication – SMS – we have weekly outlines with everyone’s activities and important pieces information (like JJ’s stealth theft of a cookie) written. Mostly by me. Mostly because I’m too much of a control freak to allow the messy handwritings of Stef and Simon to foul it. My reactions to their graffiti on my the board has been a source of humour and delight to them over the last few weeks.

Our trusty teamwork tool

We raced onwards with assessments for a week, and the next started to spread our efforts over our personal projects as well. This meant losing Stef to “Vegas” aka Sabang for days at a time whilst she worked endlessly towards building and installing a mooring buoy.

Lizzie rallied dive centres, the local government unit and the local community for a stunningly successful and much needed beach clean up on my birthday!

Beach Clean Team

Collecting 253.5 kg of rubbish, going on a cheeky dive and getting the most delicious cake ever (thanks Chloe!), followed by home made Pina Coladas made the day one of the most satisfying birthdays I’ve had! That was until I noticed how old I had just turned…

Looking good for my age

That weekend was so much more than the jump into my late-twenties. It was also the first time I’d seen a Mimic Octopus, a Coconut Octopus, and a robust ghost pipefish. Then there were the plentiful seahorses, flamboyant cuttlefish, and ornate ghost pipefish, and this was all just snorkeling. Over sand. None of us have chosen to snorkel on a reef since.

SNORKEL: A true story

Then it was my turn to punch out my personal project. I fell into the depths of Microsoft Powerpoint for about a week, only emerging for coffee with condensed milk and milo, cheese and meetings with my favourite Fisheries Officer Ms. Grace Pelino. Coming from a social worker background, and just absorbing all the information on the marine environment she can get her hands on, she commands respect from the local communities who trust her and are quick to inform her of any environmental issues. This means what she says has worth, and they listen when she tells them they have to come to my workshop!

Grace and I on our way to San Antonio Island

In most diving destinations, there tends to be animosity between the diving industry and the local communities that use marine resources. It’s no different here. The diving community distrust the fishermen, blame them for fishing all the big fish and not always complying to local laws, and the fishermen are poor and hungry and can’t understand how the diving industry benefits them – not making the link between tourist traffic and income into the area.

We all have impacts on the marine environment. It’s hard for individual dive centres and divers to see the bigger picture on how they/ we collectively impact the environment, especially when the other side to their story is getting people more enthusiastic about the marine environment. It’s hard for the fishermen who don’t have the basic background knowledge to know how their individual actions affect the marine environment in the long run. One of the best things about the Green Fins project is that it tries to tackle these issues, and bridge the gap between stakeholders.

So for about an hour, three times in two days, in hot sweaty room, I presented my “Caring for Coasts” presentation to the fishermen and small boatmen of two villages. We learnt about why we should care about coastal ecosystems, how they care for us (cheesy I know) and what we can do to help!

Minolo Small Boatmens Association

 After the presentation, we split off into smaller groups and chatted about the content, and asked them for feedback for the Local Government – more information and ammunition for Grace to run more environment initiatives like mangrove replantation and coastal clean ups! The response was overwhelmingly positive. Most of them would set aside time to pull their environmental weight, and all of them recognized the long term benefits of marine protection. The fishermen in Minolo even want to set up and patrol their own marine protected area, and every group asked for more enforcement for marine laws!

One of the biggest things I took away from the experience is that people do care, they just need the information and the tools to come up with solutions. They all came to the workshop because they recognized the need for protecting coastal ecosystems and wanted to learn how. So many people take education for granted, but here in Philippines, where not everyone has equal access to good education, it’s treasured!

Warm and fuzzy feelings all over.

Chloe, JJ, Simon, Stef and Lizzie with our BFF/ neighbour Analyn were all there to share the experience and run the discussions for me. The discussions were the most successful part of the whole thing, clarifying any misunderstandings, cementing changes in behaviours and outlooks and most importantly giving the people who rely the most on our coasts a chance to be heard. I’m indebted to my fellow Green Finners for their help.

I’ll let the others tell you more about their projects but I will say that this last week has been as hectic as ever. Simon ran a super doopity duper Green Fins Ambassador programme for local dive guides from Green Fins dive centres – another really warm and fuzzy day – and the only personal project to be crafted from start to finish by one of us. Simon’s brilliant idea, that started as an off the cuff comment, is going to spread throughout the Green Fins family throughout the region!

The first Green Fins Ambassadors in the world!

Stef’s mooring buoy baby finally reached it’s resting place today, after weeks of blood, a lot of sweat, and tears! Who knew a concrete block could be so complicated! But the benefits for that patch of reef are going to be huge – especially for the Mandarin Fish that live there. Not to mention the great example it’s setting for anchor-ridden Sabang!

Stef and her handymen

So now you’re up-to-date. Mostly. It’s been hard to remember, we’ve just done so bloody much! We’re taking the last steps of the Zoox journey, and the first for post-Zoox life. It’s been life changing. All the cliche’s are true. We have grown as people and as professionals and I feel privileged to have learnt from Chloe and JJ and to have shared that with my fellow ZEPs.

And now it’s time for bed. Because there’s no sleeping in when cockerels are around.

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One Response to Forever ago…

  1. Stan says:

    Awesome! It’s so good to hear you guys are continuing the great work over there after we left all that time ago back in December. I love this idea of the Caring for Coasts presentation, which hopefully gets to the heart of the local community where it matters. I’ve been v.busy since leaving GF, but it’s great to keep getting the updates on how the project’s progressing. Keep it up!


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