Wandering upon Zoox

J.R.R. Tolkien said that ‘’Not all those who wander are lost’’. I have always favoured this quote, not just because it was used in the Lord of the Rings, but because I felt like I could relate to it in a way. This one quote can be perceived in so many different ways, but personally I see it as that some people may wander on purpose. The idea of wandering implies that there is somewhere you need to be that you cannot seem to find. But sometimes you learn all you need to in the travels off-course that you take.

I participated in the Zoox Experience Program on the picturesque island of Malapascua almost three months ago.(Yes, this blog entry is long overdue) It was during that time that I witnessed what kind of an impact you can have on an environment through education and raising awareness. I do not have a scientific background, but I have always had a fascination for the sea. I feel I might have ‘wandered’ on purpose, not jumping into a career such as accounting, or one of the more common streams at University. Being from a land locked province in Canada, with no ocean in sight, I took to travelling to fill this void.  I gravitated to warmer climates across the globe; whist achieving my Dive Master qualification. This equalled falling in love with, and gaining a greater appreciation for the marine environment and the need to preserve it. Participating in multiple marine conservation projects over time, refuelled this passion, and upon returning home I would always be on the lookout for new programs to be involved in for my next adventure. The Zoox Experience Program was so different from previous volunteer roles that I have participated in; it caters to individual interests, adjusts to different educational background levels, and builds an assortment of skills and experiences to showcase your CV. I am very happy that I decided to be a part of this opportunity (a big part due to previous ZEP blog entries) and experience what the Philippines had to offer.

The ZEP training took place in the charming village of Aninuan, Puerto Galera.  The ZEP #5 consisted of 6 other like-minded individuals that I must give much thanks to; I learned a lot from them along with a fabulous team of trainers. The Zoox training modules consisted of topics such as Global Marine Conservation, Marine Monitoring, and Professional Development, which I’ve never seen offered in conjunction with a program before. My brain acted like a sponge, soaking up all of the information during field work and classroom sessions. Our team was destine to split up (sad face) into two groups, and put our new skills and Green Fins training to the test. The two targeted destinations were Moalboal, kicking off the second year of implementation, and new to the list, the island of Malapascua.

Malapascua is blessed to have the famous Thresher Sharks, with daily sightings on Monad Shoal. This area produces a great volume of attraction to foreign tourists, resulting in high demands for diving, putting pressure on the marine environment and health of the reef. Currently, the diving practice is to descend and kneel on the substrate next to the cleaning station and wait for the sharks to approach. As a coral lover, this has had a devastating effect to the reef, which now houses a large percentage of sand and rubble.  The sharks are the main attraction, the celebrities of the island. Now I see why this was the perfect place to add that extra push of encouragement towards an environmentally friendly change that the Green Fins girls; Rietta, Ing, Sam (as our programs officer) and myself helped bring to the island.

Thresher Shark

We became accustomed to our new island home, finding short cuts through the village and were frequently recognized from our neon green shirts with our names embroidered on the sleeve. Jumping into our roles as certified coordinators we were involved in the proposal to the dive centers, delivering the mission statement and objectives, resulting in a huge majority to sign up. We then got the ball rolling with dive center training and assessment dives. A chunk of the assessment dives that we were placed on, were at the silly hour of 5 am.  When your alarm goes off at 4:15 am to go diving, you might ask yourself if it is worth it. Let me tell you, it is worth it on Malapascua. This is the hour when you have an almost guaranteed chance to dive with the majestic Thresher Sharks. Every assessment and fun dive I was lucky enough to experience at Monad Shoal never ever disappointed.

We also had personal projects to attend to on the side.  I was responsible to design a concept to monitor the health of the reef by collecting baseline data for popular dive sites around Malapascua. By surveying coral for SEACAMS (Sustainable Expansion of the Applied Coastal and Marine Sectors) I was able to produce 100 surveys comparing live coral coverage to dead, rubble percentage and new coral growth . The tool that made the monitoring possible was a thin silver square that I had to take pretty much everywhere with me. My quadrat accompanied me from tricycle ride, to ferry, into my carry on luggage whist flying from Manila to Cebu, and to and from every dive center lining Bounty Beach. I have to admit, I did leave it many places. Mostly on dive boats and at dive centers, but it always found its way back to me. I was even regularly recognized under water while conducting surveys by a number of different dive guides.

My (boy)friend, my trusty quad

It was not all work and no play. We became known regulars on the floating bar and attended many local discos that were held in rotating basketball courts around the island.  We were even invited to a New Year’s party with Lechon (a roasted pig) on the menu, which was interesting for Ing and myself as vegetarians. We filled days off with fun dives and relaxing on the beach, and as fast as we settled in, our 6 weeks on the island was fast approaching to an end. After finishing off final reports and handing out member certifications and materials, we had some time to reflect on accomplishments over the Malapascua sunset, before going our separate ways.

I recently spent the last two months wandering travelling after departing from the Philippines. I found myself subconsciously referring back to concepts learnt while being a Green Fins Coordinator, evaluating situations based the on the colour schemes; green, yellow and red. I was environmentally friendly brainwashed, but in the best way possible. The outcome of this ‘brainwashing’ has been very authentic in my mind, and I continued to carry out these guidelines while I travelled, much like how we encourage dive centers to until the next years evaluation. I coordinated a clean up dive for a dive center that was not even a GF’s member in Thailand, as well as passed along some valuable ideas to another volunteer program I was briefly apart of in Malaysia. One of the most rewarding moments was coming back from a fun dive near Sipadan and overhearing a dive guide explain the concept of Green Fins to her guest. I found out later that she had previously worked for a dive center in the Philippines that was a Green Fins member, and yet she still choose to personally carry out the guidelines, even know GF’s has not been established in the Sabah area…yet 🙂

So what I am trying to say is how cool it was been to be a part of something so empowering, unique and constantly expanding. I have a whole new set of tools on my belt, and guidelines that have been embedded into what I personally believe in. This experience has also helped me realize where my true interest lie, and help narrow down what I was searching for career wise. I am currently not wandering at the moment. My path has brought me back to the beginning, where it all started, Aninuan, Puerto Galera working as an intern for the Reef-World Foundation, the Regional International Coordinators of Green Fins. I am faced with a whole new set of roles and responsibilities, alongside with the lovely Wai, making up Reef-World Team Intern!

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