Personal Projects have been given to all of the Zoox volunteers to work on, besides the ongoing everyday assessments of current and new Green Fin’s dive shops in Panglao. My personal project is based on the unregulated snorkel industry located here in Panglao as well as the ever popular dive and snorkel island of Balicasag. Sailing off from the brilliant work done by previous Zoox volunteer Charlotte, I begin my journey to further this ever needed regulation of the snorkel industry for the future protection of the nearby marine ecosystems.
There are several threats from snorkeling that are quite obvious, such as snorkelers without life jackets standing on the corals and seagrasses, fish-feeding practices, anchoring, and boat operators standing on corals to “park” their smaller vessels. However, there are less obvious threats that may not come to mind, but are just as detrimental. These include the lack of education and environmental awareness by both snorkelers and guides, noise pollution and its effect on animal behavior, and no carrying capacity for the amount of guests visiting these precious areas.
Although these threats are very serious, there are practical applications that can be applied to help mitigate the impacts snorkeling poses on the marine environment. An advanced reservation system could be implemented, which could track the number of people participating in this activity. Currently the maximum number of SCUBA divers allowed coming from Panglao in one day is 300, however, there are no such limitations for snorkeling. Setting up this reservation system can not only track this number, but also allow the local government to establish a threshold limit for snorkeling, similar to that of the dive industry. Closely related to this, a limit for the number of bankas or other dolphin watching vessels in the respective area can be set up, so as to not disrupt the natural behaviors of these animals. Materials from the Marine Wildlife Watch of the Philippines Guidelines can be used to educate the different boat crews on this important topic.
A third important application can be to develop a thematic Information, Education and Communication (IEC) strategy for the municipality of Panglao, and the National Government, to provide professional snorkel guide training and workshop materials. Some of these materials and training can include scientific information about corals, what they are, and why they are important, an outline of best boating practices and how they protect livelihoods, the use of mooring buoys versus anchoring, cleaning vessels without the use of harmful chemicals, and the responsible disposal of engine oil. Other information can outline the best snorkeling practices, environmental briefings for guides, the use of life jackets for guests, correcting bad behavior, no fish feeding, and the importance of not removing marine life.
This is certainly a huge task at hand to get the ball rolling further down the road, but it is an exciting one. With the knowledge and support of the Green Fins team, I am positive that I can help to make a difference for the future of the snorkel industry here in Panglao, and hopefully see this project evolve and expand into other parts of the county in the future.