Coral Gardening

It’s pretty clear by now that I’m in the Philippines. Sorry about that… I’m sure you’re sick of hearing about it by now.

For those of who aren’t yet bored by me, I’m about to describe what actual work I’m doing here. I’m well aware that my previous posts haven’t exactly been about work, so here we go!


I have been hired by the Fisheries and Marine Institute of Memorial University of Newfoundland (MI) to participate in the International Youth Internship Program that is part of the Government of Canada’s Youth Employment strategy. This program is funded by Global Affairs Canada & is basically designed to supply post-secondary graduates with some pretty awesome international work experience.

Side note: I’m only 2 months into this 6 month internship & I highly recommend any sojourner or recent uni graduate take part in this wicked program!! 

My official job title while I’m here, is: Marine Environment Management Assistant. For the duration of my 6-month internship position, I am assigned to work with John B. Lacson Foundation Maritime University. Since I’ve been here I have done a variety of things including being fortunate enough to participate in multiple marine survey’s & most recently, a coral gardening project was placed into my hands (kind of).

One of the previous Canadian interns had already done the preliminary work on this program by way of conjuring up a project proposal and budget. My job was really just to gather people to teach us how to do this beautiful thing called coral gardening & help us do it within the time schedule I also provided!

In case you want a little bit more information on who exactly was involved with funding, facilitating & training, etc., you can read about that on my blog post about it on MI International’s website in the near future! I will be sure to attach the link for it once it is available near the end of December. 🙂

Okay, okay. Now… Why is this post titled “Coral Gardening”? If you’re still with me, read on!


Day #1 – Tuesday Nov 22

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Group shot before starting our work! Left: Cameron, Mhar, Conor, RoseJane, Glaiza, Me, Jan, Neil

 

Today was the first day of our coral gardening project. As the Marine Environment Management Assistant intern at John B. Lacson Foundation Maritime University (JBLFMU), I was tasked with organizing this activity. Thought I have never physically done a coral gardening activity before, I coordinated with a few people that have… & here we are. This program is being launched in the Igang Bay Marine Sanctuary. This is a marine protected area within the municipality of Nueva Valencia on Guimaras island, right in the JBLFMU Eco Park.

What is coral gardening you ask?

It is a method of coral reef rehabilitation & restoration. It’s basically what it sounds like! Gardening coral! You collect what we call corals of opportunity (COPs) & attach them to a coral nursery bed (CNU – the U is for unit… they love their acronyms here). The COPs are essentially pieces of coral that have been broken off from their main colony, but are still living. Meaning that they still have their colour, are not over grown with algae, & are not bleached. Collect a whole bunch of these guys so you can start attaching them to their new, temporary home!

Now, you can either build that CNU yourself (you crafty handy-folk, you) or you can get it built by a craftier and more handy-folk. Then, once your little baby, broken corals are grown-up a little bit, they are ready to be transplanted onto an actual reef or some other suitable substrate. In this case, we will eventually be transplanting them to artificial reefs/fish condos that are already put in place from a previous program initiated by JBLFMU.

Here is one of 5 of our nursery beds:

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I did help a little too… I wasn’t just posing for photos.

As a trial program, this is just one method we’re using for the CNU. This is an angle bar with dimensions 3m x 1m x 0.5m. Unknowingly, there were also metal rods put across the 3m length of the bed. This wasn’t part of the original plan, but we ran with it. While some of the CNU’s will just have the metal rods to use, we also tried out put 1 inch mesh, hex netting (chicken wire) across the top of it. Once we collect a bunch of COPs, we will hang them between the metal rods with galvanized wire. They’ll basically be suspending between two of the bars. The CNUs with the hex netting will be placed in the mesh opening and again, secured with wire. We’re not sure which of these design will work best, as most of us haven’t done this before and those that have, haven’t used this design before. So we will see! 🙂

Here’s some things I saw on dive #1:


Day #2 (3 beds complete, 2 deployed)

Today was focused on searching for more COPs and filling as many beds as possible. We went for a dive just before lunch to find a bunch more corals to place on the CNU. This might not be as easy as you would think… Especially if you haven’t yet had the practice. So we buddied up underwater and brought a crate along to collect our COPs. Once it becomes a little much for you both to carry, maybe just head back to shore.

Tip: Make sure to plan your first COP hunting trip with someone who knows which corals are maybe not so welcoming to the human touch. A.K.A. Fire corals… Feel exactly how they sound. THANKFULLY I did not experience this and luckily, a local marine biologist pointed out to me which they were.

After lunch, we were able to fill 2 CNUs with COPs. As we were nearing the end of the day, and the end of available light, we tied on one CNU to either side of a small boat. The boat carried these two CNUs to the sandy site where the CNUs will stay for a few months. While a few of us went along to ensure that the beds were placed properly and in an ideal area, the rest of the snorkelers finished a third bed!

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Lowering a CNU from the boat!

We were looking to be in great shape to finish up the remaining beds for the next day!


Dive #3 (2 beds completed, 3 deployed)

Almost done! Today is the last day of our project! With sore hands and salty, sun kissed hair, we had an early start for snorkelling to finish the last two nursery beds.

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Finishing COP attachments!

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In this photo I’m telling my fellow team members and Canadians to lower the CNU to its temporary new home!

With great success, we were able to complete the last two CNUs and get all 3 of them launched into our little CNU patch within the marine sanctuary. All before lunch too!!

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We’re finished!!

Our reward for finishing with so much time to spare, was a fun dive after lunch! That comes with its own story altogether… If you’d like to hear about THAT one… read my next post “Unfortunate events that I can finally laugh about”. You’ll understand why it needs a separate blog post.

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Here is (what I think) is a pretty wicked shot of one of many jellies seen during our dives! In the background: Conor & Adam

So, after 3 days, lots of diving, and tons of snorkelling we were able to fill 5 CNUs and get them all deployed to their new, temporary home.

The main objective of this program is to test the methodology & success rate of this coral reef restoration project. Coral gardening is also geared towards the development of future workshops involving the local government, private sector and the community including the youth & fisherfolk. This type of project can be completed with the use of inexpensive, locally available materials that would create a fun community event that also contributes to coral reef rehabilitation.

After all the research, time, effort & crazy amount of diving & snorkelling, I really believe this project will do good in the community & local marine environment. Coral gardening has an awesome track record of increasing coral reef health & fish productivity. I was so happy to be a part of this project!! I hope that I can do this same kind of work in other places of the Philippines & worldwide as well! Feels great to be a trained coral gardener! 🙂 Adding it to the resume…. 😀

Thanks for reading y’all!! I know these posts keep getting longer & longer… I appreciate anyone who’s made it this far. Thank you for your support and interest in my life here! 🙂

-C

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