August 17, 2012

No Fish Bombs is Good News for Philippine Reefs


By Reef Check Executive Director Dr. Gregor Hodgson

Starting in late July, I had the pleasure to serve as the Reef Check Instructor on the Philippine Siren, the gorgeous liveaboard dive boat run by Worldwide Dive and Sail. What was so special about this trip was that for three years from 1979 to 1982, I was a US Peace Corps Volunteer based at the Cebu City Bureau of Fisheries. My dive buddy Mike Ross and I had the pleasure of surveying coral reefs for the Bureau of Fisheries all over the southern Visayan region as it is called. So what condition are the reefs in now compared to 30 years ago?

The most amazing success story is that during more than a week of diving, I did not hear a single blast-fishing bomb go off. Even just a few years ago, I would have heard 3-4 blasts (or a zinging sound if the blast was a long distance away) per dive. The results can be seen in the high level of coral “cover” and huge schools of small reef fish like Anthias, which are decimated by indiscriminate blast fishing. Many Marine Protected Areas have been established in the southern Philippines – some more than 20 years ago. This has led to another success story — the return of large turtles, mantas and even some whale sharks to the area. Still missing however, and indicating a regular level of poaching are other sharks, large mature grouper, humphead wrasse, bumphead parrots and sweetlips as well as lobster and giant clams. For those of you familiar with the tropical Reef Check survey protocol, all except sharks are our “indicator species” used to measure human impacts on reefs. Even the famed Apo Island was missing some species and large sized fish – indicating that more attention needs to be paid to reducing poaching.

Everyone on the cruise participated in the Reef Check training and five stalwart volunteers passed their exams with flying colors and were certified as RC EcoDivers. They were so “hard core” they even carried out several RC surveys during the passage of a typhoon to the north. My thanks to the wonderful staff of Worldwide Dive and Sail and the incredibly enthusiastic staff and crew of the Siren for an amazing revisit to a favorite part of the world.

Ivan Salazar, Mare Nostrum Expediciones