Some people say I love corals to a fault, but this “fault” has brought me very challenging and rewarding experiences that I wouldn’t have traded for anything else.
I left a comfortable teaching career in Manila and returned to my hometown Silago to help establish the Ocean-Action Resource Center (ORC), a small non-government organisation based in Silago, a rural coastal town in Southern Leyte province. And while I don’t miss the perks of city living, there certainly have been times I wanted to escape the daunting rural realities.
Having taught in a university for a decade and having been trained by ZSL in EDGE coral reef conservation, I had taken on the difficult task of doing marine conservation education in Southern Leyte, where the gap between science and the community is appallingly wide, to say the least. Just to make a fishing village realize that corals are animals and not rocks is enough cause for celebration. To make them see the importance of evolutionary distinct and globally endangered species is indeed a conservationist’s dream, one that would require EDGE Fellows to be highly creative and ingenious, especially if they’re in a developing country like the Philippines.
Using the three priority EDGE coral species that occur in the Indo-Pacific region (elegance coral, mushroom coral and pearl bubble coral), my project will focus on strengthening existing conservation strategies, notably marine protected areas (MPAs). My aim is to make these species become flagships for coral reef conservation, and through them I will engage coastal communities, particularly youth, in order to get more support for marine conservation.
Although this may be a huge challenge, I embrace it. The way forward can be arduous, but I take comfort in the success of those who persevered. I find hope in many small yet genuine victories of conservation efforts especially in my own community: some of my neighbours actively monitor the nearby waters for illegal fishers, children educate their own parents about coral reefs, and teachers selflessly assist us in our campaigns. More so, I find hope in the ORC team, likeminded people who have come together to share the conservation burden with me. And it is with all these that I move on with the EDGE coral project, a step closer to fulfilling the conservationist’s dream.
(Special thanks to the ORC team members for helping me get the EDGE coral project off the ground—Dr. Humberto Montes, Jr., Voltaire Cerna, Gerry Domingo, Almeo Bontigao, Leonardo Alba, Jr., Joey Toyhacao and Johann Gersua, III.)
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