Manta Tow!

Last week I set out with five other members of CCEF (Coastal Conservation and Education Foundation) and four crew members of the ship ‘GDS” in order to complete a manta tow survey of the Danajon bank reef, in between Cebu island and Bohol island in the Visayas region of the Philippines. This kind of surveying had never been done at the Danajon bank some I was somewhat excited, feeling like a proper wee explorer and coastal warrior. Although in reality the area is routinely used as fishing grounds and there are regular ferry services going across one part of the reef, that adventurer spirit stayed with me throughout the week, if slightly diminishing as the time went by.

Manta towing is a method by which a large area can be examined over a short period in order to ascertain whether it would be productive to turn the area into an MPA or Marine Protected Area, as well as gather data on which parts of the reef have high enough biodiversity and marine life to warrant a return for closer studying with diving equipment.  Essentially manta towing involves being dragged behind a boat with snorkelling gear on, every two minutes you stop and write down on a board what percentage of the sea bed below you was sand, what percentage was living hard coral, living soft coral, dead coral algae etc etc. So with this collected data you can build up a very superficial idea of where the best coral is and therefore where is a good place to start protecting or examining.

We were at sea for 8 days, with one rest day in the middle and it was a lovely experience. The crew and the researchers were a great bunch. The first afternoon involved getting to the right spot, sorting out a second boat and other bits and bobs so there was no manta towing. What there was instead was some beer to help the afternoon flow. Danny, one of the researchers, was in charge of pouring drinks for us all and somehow we managed to consume 3 days worth of beer in one afternoon, hmmm. I blame Danny. After this less than scientifically rigorous start the rest of the days when we towed were less inebriated. For me the highlights included seeing a sea snake and seeing a barracuda jumping out of the water as it attempted to catch some smaller needlefish. Exciting stuff.

There was a lot of evidence of dynamite fishing on the sea floor and, unfortunately, the area is very low in fish numbers as it has been severely overfished. Dynamite fishing is still a problem in this area and it involves a concerted effort on many different groups to help put a stop to it. The reality is that fishermen, constrained by an ever dwindling stock of catch will do whatever they can o catch as many fish as possible to earn money to feed their families. Blasting caps and chemicals needed to make the explosives used in dynamite fishing are economical for many fishermen. Proper management of the reef needs to happen with their consent, only through educating them will they understand that a well managed reef will provide far more fish for generations, as well as being a source of other income through tourism. But, as always in a country where there are so many poor people, short sighted planning occurs, thinking of how you can feed yourselves for the next week is more important than thinking about how you might feed yourself in ten years time, with financial insecurity this is inevitable.

Many a beautiful sun set occurred over the week and we learned some new constellations as well (using my handy new stargazing book!). Some other highlights included; backflips of the bow of the ship, sea urchin catching (and then eating, not very tasty I’m afraid, but they are a delicacy out here), visiting a few remote islands and waking up at 3am because a storm just hit the boat (it was very wet and windy, and when your sleeping out on the deck it is not the best thing to have to deal with!).

Unfortunately I am unable to upload pictures on this computer at the moment. I will do as soon as I can, a picture paints a thousand words.

Time has passed quickly and I’m now off to the North again, to Manila for an Art Camp for children involved in domestic work abuse/human trafficking and then on to Dasmarenas City for a 10 day silent meditation retreat (!), more to come on that scary prospect soon. ..

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