Small fish in a big pond!

I am always telling the volunteer Project Coordinators about the importance of making sure that they regularly blog and update the world on what they are up so that people can have a better understanding about the importance of their work as well as allowing others to see the accomplishments of their combined efforts but I never actually do it myself for a multidude of reasons, none of which I can put my finger on! So I am breaking the habitat and am writing one now. I am currently sitting in the popular eatery known by all who visit Malapasca as Ging Ging’s, loved for it’s low prices, carbonara and generally friendly staff writing what is a well overdue blog. Ing and Meaghan left early this morning and Sam our Programmes Officer has gone back to her home in Cebu leaving me and Rietta on the island for one more day. This is the end of 8 weeks of the ZEP#5 and what another successful placement it has been. There are of course the other guys, Jonny, Wai, Rachael and Michal over in Moalboal on the other side of Cebu but I’ll let them and Chloe tell you their story.

Moon Wrasse (Thalassoma lunare)

Moon Wrasse (Thalassoma lunare)

Last night was the last chance for all of us plus Sam and myself to get together and reflect on all the achievements and hard work that they have put together here in Malapascua. It was sometime ago that the national government along with the Save Philippnes Seas organisation asked for our assistance to implement the UNEP Green Fins project in the area to help conserve and protect the coral reefs that thousand each year come to dive. The vast majority of the community in Malapascua have switched from fishing to tourism as their main source of income which now is as high as 80%.  This fast expanding community is highly dependent from the mostly international tourists that come here for one thing, diving with Thresher sharks. Malapascua is world famous for its reliability to see Thresher Sharks on a seamount close to the island that visit here for the cleaner stations where the Cleaner and Moon wrasses (Labroides dimidiatus and Thalassoma lunare) are present. It is these very small fish, rather than the sharks (and sometimes Manta Rays and Hammerhead sharks that occasionally visit) that the entire regions economy hinges on. Who could have thought these small and relatively unassuming fish would be so important to cooks, cleaners, boat captains, dive guides, hotel staff, laundry staff, hotel managers, waitresses, coconut vendors, compressor operators, deck hands, scuba instructors, technicians, mechanics, masseuse’s, souvenir sellers, shop owners, fruit sellers, taxi drivers, bus companies, communications staff and many many other members of the community here.

Cleaner Wrasse (Labroides dimidiatus)

Cleaner Wrasse (Labroides dimidiatus)

Surely then you would think that these fish deserve a serious level of respect, statues in their honour in the Barangay, pictures of these funny little fish high on the wall in every house, songs in their honour and nightly thanks made by every child before they go to bed. Unfortunately not. Instead the very people that travel long distances to get here, like the Threshers themselves, are damaging the very ecosystem that these Cleaner and Moon Wrasse depend on. Through a variety of reasons, be it lack of knowledge, skills or respect, many scuba divers are breaking the corals through direct contact by either sitting, resting or lying on the corals!!! Madness I hear you cry… Well again no. Many people are not actually aware of this being a problem, until now that is.

Thresher Shark in Malapascua
Thresher Shark in Malapascua

Green Fins encourages dive centres to follow an environmentally responsible code of conduct that empowers and enables dive guides to control their guests through briefings and direct interventions under water to prevent damage, like the one mentioned above, from happening. Through the work of the ‘Green Fins Girls’, as they affectionately have been called, dive centres have received their Green Fins training meaning that 12 out of the 14 dive centres on the island are now educated and aware of what they need to do. We can’t take all the credit as there were already many educated and aware dive centres who are and have been for many years doing some great work. Green Fins has however filled the gap. Ing, Rietta and Meaghan along with Sam’s help have trained over 120 individuals and have rightly restored the respect for the reef and their tenants the Cleaner and Moon Wrasse that the Threshers and others depend on.

They have also carried out coral reef monitoring and diver behaviour surveys to monitor the project successes, investigated local waste management problems and looked into oil and batteries recycling methods with recommendations for the local government and carried out a workshop with 42 local fishermen to help build relations through an information and education campaign (IEC) where we listened to their concerns regarding illegal fishing and lack of enforcement for further recommendations. The girls have been a constant presence on the island and achieved many successes implementing Green Fins in a new location. Malapascua now has a great network of dedicated dive centres who are committed to bringing about change. Well done guys, be proud of what you have done for it was not easy and with many challenges which together you all overcame. We’ll miss working with you and look forward to the next time we meet!

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