Napantao: Paradise in the South

Whale shark abound the area and we were lucky during our hunt before leaving the Expedition!

The CCC Expedition required me to stay for a whole month in the base camp located in one of the most diverse coast along Sogod Bay. Napantao is one of the 22 barangays of San Francisco, a lowly coastal town in Southern Leyte.  Remote and unheard of, out of the tourism radar even for diving.

My stay was brief but long enough to observe and experience the diverse marine life on its front waters.  It was however, for my eyes only since photo shoots were not allowed or never part  during the training and survey dives.  In some way, it was a good opportunity to focus on the existing marine life in the surrounding reefs. Actually, a volunteer should be mindful and must stay focused, accuracy is necessary. In many instances, I was too engrossed on the lessons and actual exams underwater and so unconsciously ignored species in one way or another.  Like, if the agenda was Invertebrates & Impacts I will easily ignore the fishes and other marine life; or if our aim was for the Substrates, my eyes will search for the corals, sponges, rocks, mud, so on. My eyes were out for the day’s mission – no more, no less.

Yet, I could not undermine the richness of the surrounding waters which has been my training ground and the scenery at the end of each day. I caught glimpse of them every time after our second dive for the day. If we have more time, we swam back slowly over the reefs, wiggled among the big boulders and watch the colorful corals and variety of fishes. The surgeons, a group of damsels over there, a pair of trumpet fish darting from behind, brown and yellow box fish, a swarm of blue fusiliers and the different chromis in colors.  Then I encountered a giant hump head wrasse, it was unbelievably huge, it was roaming around perhaps looking for prey. I was just watching at a distance, it’s unethical to go near and disturb them.  Indeed, one should have a tremendous respect even for the marine animals.  Those giant spadefish that swam coyly every exit or approach in the channel, reminding me to relax and to take easy on a daily basis.

One morning, we woke up wondering that a luxury boat anchored in the front waters, only to find out it was a dive cruise spending whole day for the dives. And regularly, dive boats from Padre Burgos cruised to Napantao for diving bringing their guests, which for me brought home that surrounding waters is tremendously rich with marine life.

I will always think and believe that this coastal barangay is a legendary dive site and marine habitat. The soft waves riveting the blue waters and the golden hues of sunset at the end of each day were great reminders of God’s wondrous works. And there was much beyond the surface, the fish sanctuary and surrounding reef were filled with colorful marine life keeping in balance its marine ecosystem and sustaining the valuable resources of its community.

NB. Above photo was courtesy of FBM Gareth Turner

Finding Triton Trumpet!

This is exactly similar to what we found in the reef.
Photo courtesy of http://www.oceana.org

My dives during the CCC expedition led me to surprising encounters with marine critters, especially that their field base is nestled within Sogod Bay which is just one of the richest marine environment in the Philippines. We were having our second survey dive of the day doing outward for the fish survey, it was in pretty normal conditions, no current and animals were contentedly calm. I was scouring my side for the target species and unexpectedly this large shell came into view, I tried to come near but getting conscious that invertebrates was not our aim for the descent, time is always precious during survey dives! But the sighting was too rare to ignore, I tried to get Manon’s (our Project Scientist) attention – she was too absorbed as she was leading our mission. I pointed it out and she was surprised too! The intricate pattern of the its shell was just beautiful. We both came nearer and she signaled to record the sighting. That was my first encounter of a giant Triton in its habitat surrounded with other animals and I was wondering of its contribution to the marine ecosystem.

Here are are few facts I found at www.oceana.org about the specie:

  1. This invertebrate is an active predator and is known to aggressively chase its prey, which it detects through its excellent sense of smell.
  2. The giant Triton is known for relatively high speeds, especially for a snail.
  3. They feed on other snails and sea stars, most notably the crown of thorns starfish (COTS), Triton is the only natural predators of this destructive starfish.
  4. The specie was considered extremely important to reef health and is given legal protection particularly in Australia.
  5. The giant Triton reproduces through internal fertilization, and the female lays her sticky eggs on the sand, where they quickly become covered with sand and other material, protecting them from potential predators.

Unfortunately, because of its valuable and attractive shell it is collected at many places around the world, they are often sold in shops or markets in popular tourism destinations in the tropics such here in Philippines.  Gladly, that night during dinner as we were discussing the day’s activities, the giant Triton was nominated as critter of the day and was voted by majority!

NB.    The giant Triton was sighted in Nueva Estrella Norte, a fishing community in Pintuyan, Southern Leyte where a marine protected area (MPA) was just established.

The CCC Expedition

Check out dive at CCC house reef with my roommate Jemimah who hailed from Queensland, Australia.

Coral Cay Conservation is an internationally renowned and accredited conservation specialist dedicated to providing the resources to help protect coral reefs and tropical rainforests throughout the developing world. 

Since 1986 CCC have run over 20 successful conservation projects in more than 10 different countries around the world involving more than 10,000 volunteers, training several hundred scholars and publishing more than 300 key scientific research papers.

Across the world, CCC have had several internationally notable accomplishments such as the introduction of several Marine Protected Areas including the creation of the UNESCO World Heritage Site in Belize; The Danjugan Marine Reserve and Wildlife Sanctuary for Negros, Philippines in 2000; The Limasawa Community Managed Marine Protected Area for Southern Leyte, Philippines in 2008.

http://www.coralcay.org

Marine conservation and protection is undoubtedly becomes a passion for many,   everyone is becoming conscious of the environment and for people who loves the ocean, always believe that it needs necessary care not only for the present but more importantly for the future generation. Inside me, I felt and thought that my effort for these issues was only a minuscule of what was necessary of the vast waters around us. The seventy percent water that comprises the Earth is unimaginable and sustaining this important resource from all forms of risks including global climate change is very challenging and gargantuan for that matter.  The Earth is in dire need right now of human intervention.

It was in September 2017 that I stumbled from the internet after curiously searching on marine volunteer works, about Coral Cay Conservation (CCC) based in London, UK with a field base in San Francisco, Southern Leyte.  So, I carefully browse the information from their website believing that their target participants were foreign nationals only, consequently inquired if they accept local residents for the programme. The reply was good news, scholarships are offered to local residents with matching screening and qualified divers were very welcome. The rest was history. I was accepted as a CCC Expedition scholar in October 2017!

It was only in November 2018 that I finally traveled to Southern Leyte for my engagement, the year was filled with challenging tasks and I was only available in the last few weeks of the year.  Such a long wait, yet the excitement was coupled with apprehension as I would be working with total strangers in an obscure remote town I was not familiar with.  I chose the long trip by land which was an adventure by itself, cruising to Visayas through Lipata and San Ricardo route was one of the routes I was searching on and wanted to do, long before.

I found it an advantage choosing the last batch team for the year, it was lean period and so it wasn’t crowded. The pace was fitting for me as I need to absorb the lessons deeply, the follow-up exams were not easy, both underwater and on computer.  The lessons were to prepare the volunteers for the survey works, identifying the substrates, invertebrates and target fish species correctly so that only accurate data were provided for the study in establishment of marine protected area.  The community were involved also and participated in  gathering data and raising awareness for marine conservation understanding.

The four-week stay in Barangay Napantao was full – household chores, lessons, exams, dives – Sundays however, serves as off-gassing day as a rule. Our meals were venues for stories, accusations, confessions, jokes, or the critter for the day’s dive nomination, and laughter… 🙂  Seriously, it was hard work and definitely not for the faint-hearted, diving have standards and protocols, whether boat or shore dives. I gained thirty five (35) dives during the expedition including one night shore dive at the house reef, again I would say it was hard work. Yet, I was grateful I was given the chance to work for a cause for the marine world. Perhaps my contribution was too trivial, yet I learned so much more about marine life and environment, most importantly gained scientific skills. The encounters were memorable and truly enriching. Indeed, we can only protect what we love. Obviously, the CCC team and other volunteers made my stint possible and a rewarding one.

The bruises, stings, scratches and scars I got during the expedition will soon disappear and  forgotten but the memories and gained insights will surely linger on.  Surely, we can only have good intentions for what we love and for what we need to protect. It was a once in a lifetime experience and I am one proud CCC scholar!

NB. Photo credits to Mr. Gareth Turner, Field Base Manager during the period. The expedition base is located in Napantao, San Francisco, Southern Leyte within Sogod Bay.