April 5, 2005

Reef Check Philippines in the News (Cebu Sun Star, April 2005)

Cebu Sun Star
April 05, 2005
Reef Check
By Leticia Suarez-Orendain

Beneath the lime green ocean is a showcase of coral reefs poetically called “rainforests of the sea.”

These forests are the fragile links among fish larvae, juvenile and adult fishes and other marine life forms, and mankind. Corals are home to these creatures and respite for the human spirit.

Damage done by illegal forms of fishing (such as using cyanide), sedimentation, pollution, global warming, reef gleaning, over-fishing weaken this link. It depletes fish population and kills corals, according to Reef Check (RC), a non-government organization (NGO) that is ecoholistic (not just fish or coral).

Philippine reefs are seriously threatened. Out of the 27,000 kilometers of coral reefs, only five percent remains excellent.

RC says, “Symptoms of dying coral reefs were slow to show and it was not until recently that the scale and potential catastrophe was recognized. By the mid-1990s, scientists began looking for effective ways to solve the problems killing the world’s reefs.”

Basically, RC’s work is to monitor and to measure coral reef health by involving the communities that depend on the sea for its existence or have a concern for reef ecosystem.

It is just one of the NGOs working to save the sea forests around the world. Its slogan says it all: “Saving reefs worldwide through research, education and conservation.”

Mario Marababol, RC program manager, says that their three-pronged program – research, education, conservation – spears towards communities, namely, fisher folk, local government units (LGUs), dive clubs, dive operators, NGOs that work with reefs and stakeholders, such as restaurants, beach resorts and schools (for example, the University of San Carlos Marine Biology Department and De La Salle University).

The goal through research and science is to assess human impact on corals. Education takes the form of trainings and an instructional DVD on corals. Produced by MacGullivray Freeman, the film feature RC’s activities in the Pacific area.

With conservation, the NGO wants to raise public awareness on corals and its importance. “As of now, there are more than 63 countries adopting Reef Check,” Marababol says.

Many NGOs are working around Gilutongan Island, Cebu, among them RC. The marine sanctuary there is considered the most successful urban, no-take protected area.

Tomorrow, RC will turn over posters and an interactive media player to marine sanctuary manager Toti Menguito, a fisherman trained by RC.

Coral reefs are lures for tourism, which is why stewardship is vital. Working with LGUs, the Department of Tourism and the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources, RC encourages beach clubs and resorts to develop “in-house” coral reef dive spots to save the sea and to allow clients to enjoy the sport without going far.

Alegre Beach Resort in Sogod has responded to this call and has been trained by RC to do the job. The resort has developed 14 hectares of coral reefs near its facility and it is thriving.

RC has a partnership with the Marine Aquarium Council (MAC), and the Community and Conservation Investment Forum (CCIF) in the area of aquarium fish collection.

Role-wise, RC provides scientific data for the management of the aquarium trade through the development of the Marine Aquarium Trade Coral Reef Monitoring Protocol (Maqtrac) and undertakes rehabilitation research and activities in coral reefs.

Partnerships can also be forged with companies or individuals that have environment projects or anyone that may want to adopt a reef or support the NGO.

Maan and Pia Hontiveros, who are TV personalities promoting marine conservation, have been trained to check the reef in Lian, Batangas. It was organized by Dr. Al Licuaran of Shields Marine Station and, small world, a former classmate of RC country director, Dr. Domingo Ochavillo.

RC offers a short-term marine biology course to non-biologists. The two week course is fun and deals on subjects such as how to sustain marine life.

There is an RC training course for divers and snorkelers who want to know how to survey the status of reefs. It gives scuba diving a deeper purpose. Divers become part of the reef team as they partner with marine scientists who lead them in monitoring reefs. All data collected are sent to the RC headquarters and become a part of the global status reports.

Coming to a full cycle, children are not left out. RC is preparing a program for children, a colorful activity book. It was conceptualized by NGO founder and executive director Gregor Hodgson, who started as a Peace Corps volunteer in Mactan.