LOL – Lauren on Location – Earth Day 2010 – Lauren gives a talk, cleans up and discusses dangerous toilets.
Thursday the 22nd April 2010 was Earth Day; originally founded in 1970 in the US by Senator G. Nelson it is now celebrated by more than 175 countries worldwide and is designed to inspire awareness and appreciation for the Earth’s environment.
Earlier in the week, Helen King TSRCP’s Education and Community Officer had spoken to the Barangay Captain (Rex) who had agreed to participate in a series of lectures given by ourselves to the Barangay Officials on earth day designed to highlight the importance of coral reefs, the effect of global warming on coral reefs, the importance of the coral reef to elasmobranches and waste management strategies to protect the reefs and to help prevent global warming continue at it’s current rate. The Barangay is the Filipino word for village, and so the Barangay Officials are responsible for things occurring within their area. It was fantastic news and an honour to be allowed to take part in this event (I spoke on the importance of coral reefs to elasmobranches).
We also gave a similar series of lectures to the local kids of all ages and got them involved in a beach cleanup, the day was a huge success everyone had a fantastic time and hopefully learnt something useful. Also some promising initial discussions (prompted by Claire Horseman’s lecture – a visiting Science Officer from Coral Cay Conservation) began with the Barangay Captain about setting up Marine Protected Areas (MPA’s) around Malapascua Island.
Getting involved teaching the local children about the importance of sharks and how toilets kill more people each year than sharks!
LOL – Lauren on Location – Lauren makes her way to Thresher Shark Research and Conservation Project (TSRCP), based on Malapascua Island, off the North East tip of Cebu, gets some on site dive training, explores a wreck and catches her first sight of a thresher shark.
After flying back from Legaspi to Manila and then from Manila to Cebu, I then boarded a Ceres Liner bus to Maya, the bus was fantastic (apart from the heat!), most people on the bus had cockerels in their bags which led to a chorus of crowing as we whizzed along the track, I had a lovely lady sit next to who must have thought I needed fattening up as she kept pulling out all sorts of food from her bag to give to me!
Leaving Cebu on route to Maya
The bus took 3 & 1/2 hrs which considering it can take 6hrs was pretty good going, at Maya I was picked up by the TSRCP crew and we headed over to Malapascua Island (this took around 30 mins).
At Maya ferry port, with Malapascua Island in the far distance.
On arrival on Malapascua I got settled in and loved my room and the artwork at the guesthouse!
The door to the bathroom!
One of the walls in the Guesthouse
The following day I had an island tour (courtesy of Nick – Science Officer and Helen – Education officer) and then I began dive training G.U.E. style, G.U.E. Global Underwater Explorers emerged out of a shared desire to safely explore and protect the underwater world and to improve the quality of education and research in all things aquatic. They utilize different diving techniques and styles than those taught conventionally, hence when used to diving in a certain way the training can be quite challenging.
However thanks to Medel’s (Expedition Leader) training capabilities I soon began to get the hang of it, all training is conducted at specific sights with sandy bottoms hence buoyancy issues can be resolved with no cost to the aquatic environment (even if you do end up face planting yourself). However I must report I am yet to fully conquer a technique known as the reverse fin, the object is as the term implies to go backwards, this is all well and good apart from my feet and butt having a tendency to rise up rather than go backwards, I can only imagine what I must look like underwater, indeed if the cleaner fish see me in that position they will probably think it is an elaborate invitation posture for them to come and clean me!
By the Wednesday (14th) I had completed by dive training and had even done a fun dive – a Japanese WWII wreck, the coral growth and species are incredible and the critters to be seen are both numerous and elaborate, most people dive this site at sunset to see the Mandarin fish, however I was extremely lucky to see both an adult and a juvenile mandarin fish on the dive around 3pm.
By the Thursday I was able to dive the site which I had come here for: Monad Shoal. We were on the boat by 6am and heading to Monad which is about 1/2hrs boat ride away, as we descended onto Monad I was shown the site by Medel and Felimar (Dive Master), just as we were preparing to begin an ascent (we had already seen numerous species of coral, lionfish, cuttlefish, blue spotted rays etc) a Pelagic Thresher Shark came into view, this is what I had come here to see, the shark did an initial pass and then came back, we got as low as we could to the bottom and let the shark do its thing, at one point it came in low and headed directly at us, incredible view so sleek and he practically shimmered underwater with his colouration, when it eventually swam off watching it’s tail disappear into the distance was incredible!
What a fantastic first encounter, I hope I have many more over the next 2 months…
Dr Lauren E. Smith is a marine biologist who specialises in shark research; she is a keen surfer, freediver and SCUBA diver and loves nothing more than to combine these activities with her passion for sharks.
Sharks have evolved for over 400 million years, surviving some of the earth’s greatest mass extinctions. They are superbly adapted to their environment: apex predators, intelligent with unique immune systems and yet for all this perfection they are vulnerable particularly to the actions of man.
Therefore I believe that the key way to save these animals is through education; through informed understanding, misrepresentation and fears can be replaced with appreciation, respect and compassion.
It is for these reasons that I have taken a 3 month sabbatical from my current research position based in the North East of Scotland in the UK, and am heading off to the Philippines for as many shark based activities as possible!
The primary reason for me choosing the Philippines is because it is home to a well established shark research laboratory, with an excellent reputation the – Thresher Shark Research and Conservation Project (TSRCP), based on Malapascua Island, off the North East tip of Cebu, where I will be working for 2 months. The TSRCP’s mission statement is as follows:
“To promote and disseminate shark research, education and conservation to a broad local, regional and international public and scientific outreach”.
A statement that I fully endorse and follow when conducting my own shark research.
During my stay in the Philippines I will also be going to visit the whale sharks that descend on the waters of Donsol, located at the Southern tip of Luzon Island for December to May each year. Here I will be getting in the water with the whale sharks and meeting with employees of Donsol EcoTour (http://www.donsolecotour.com/whale_sharks.htm) to find out more about the whale sharks, with a view to developing future research possibilities.
During the first week of June I will be flying to the Republic of Palau, 500 miles east of the Philippines for a 2-week stay. Palau is made up of over 300 volcanic and coral islands, it attracted a lot of media attention in September of last year when it effectively created the worlds first ‘shark sanctuary’ after banning all commercial shark fishing in it’s waters. Here I will be SCUBA diving and freediving and hopefully in doing so observing yet more shark’s in their natural environment.