Last week I went to El Nido to help facilitate a media tour of the Green Fins approach, a UNEP initiative to promote a sustainable diving and snorkelling industry. More posts coming - but here’s a teaser to whet your palette…

Bubbling beneath the surface

Excerpt from my work blog:

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I was going to write this blog about the plethora of achievements the team here has had in the last couple of weeks. I feel like, Christmas festivities aside, we’re powering through as a team, full speed ahead. The team is so proactive; it’s hard to keep up! Tiff and Sharon arrived safe and sound and have slipped seamlessly into Team MB ZEP life. We’ve had assessments and trainings galore, an inspiring day snorkelling with the teachers, sweaty runs about town delivering battery recycling tubs and ‘Say No To Plastic’ posters. But for me, the proof of the pudding was last night’s dive guide accreditation Seminar. The whole team blew my socks flip flops off with how they helped each other run briefing workshops and group discussions.

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You see, we’re in a special place called Moalboal. On the surface, one might think it is plagued with the expected short-comings of developing-country bureaucracy. But beneath the surface is a melting pot of passion for environmental protection and governance. It’s a jumble of ideas and opinions and I think we might be witness to the first steps of that energy forming the first rung on the ladder to Conservation.

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Call me naïve, I’m sure similar situations of personalities and abilities crashing together into something almost productive fall apart all the time. But I’m hopeful here.  Let me try and explain. There exists an ordinance regulating the diving industry, penalising destructive diver behaviour and practices. It mandates that all guides that dive the in the waters of Moalboal must be accredited. In order to become so, they must obtain environmental training. Until recently, it hasn’t been acted on.

Last year, Green Fins awareness raising sessions with member dive centres was counted as the training. This year we’ve been working with the Coastal Resource Management consultant, Romel, to put together an official training seminar. Not only is this a huge success for the project, but the LGU (Local Government Unit) is one of the first to implement such ‘quality’ control on its diving tourism industry. Team MB ZEP has held it’s own as a significant part of the first accreditation seminar in Moalboal. The work we’ve done will help to shape this annual event, and has set in motion an evolving opportunity for education and awareness, and I’m proud of everyone.

Whilst only a small proportion of the dive guides showed up for a number of reasons which we can all learn from, it ended up being a perfect number to pilot the training and the productivity of the session more than made up for it. Passionate discussions about local environmental ordinances and law enforcement issues warmed the group up, but in the end we’re all on the same page, and we saw a line of communication pry itself open between the LGU and different stakeholders. LGU officials learnt more about the difficulties people have in reporting environmental crimes, and the participants learnt about the difficulties of budget, manpower and bureaucracy. They also learnt about the help that should be on its way from the different projects related to Coastal Resource Management. All agree things need to change, and this meeting was the first step towards it, with the local government recruiting divers as partners in effective reporting, enforcement and management.

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The oceans face many problems, and most are bigger than diver damage to reefs. However, that is something the diving industry can do something about, which is one of the reasons Green Fins exists. I presented on the importance of briefings and correcting customer behaviour and the group broke out into two and discussed the ICONS – a visual representation of the do’s and don’ts of environmental diving –showing off practicing environmental briefings to each other. Last but not least was a discussion on the Ethics of Diving; Romel’s idea to reconnect people with why they joined the diving industry in the first place and instil a sense of priority towards sustainable environmental practices. These discussions were all led by Team MB ZEP who all excelled, proving how much they have absorbed over the past six weeks, be it in terms of understanding a complicated project like Green Fins, or how to manage people and shape discussions.

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To me, the room was buzzing with enthusiasm and ideas. Guides used the cut-out ICONS (a genius idea from five weeks ago!) to give their versions of environmental briefings, other dive shop staff spoke to Romel about shaping the accreditation in line with the diving industry’s needs, and the discussion on ethics brought out the warm and fuzzy ocean loving stories that everyone in the room seemed to share.

I’ll let the team correct me if I’m wrong, but I feel like two normally opposing stakeholders left the room with a better understanding of where each was coming from, and how a local government and it’s diving industry can start to fight together, instead of against each other. And to me, self-confessed conservation dork, it was a privilege, and amazing to be a part of.

Philippines envoy says UN climate talks are "fight for country's future"

“We have not seen any money from the rich countries to help us to adapt … We cannot go on like this. It cannot be a way of life that we end up running always from storms,” he says.

Sano acknowledges it is currently hard to attribute single events to climate change. IPCC climate scientists currently have ‘low confidence’ that the intensity of tropical cyclones has increased since the 1950s, although they believe it is ‘likely’ they will increase in the late 21st century.

Instead, he points to Bopha and Haiyan as a warning of what is to come for coastal communities in South Asia.

“The physics is quite simple, that if you have warming oceans it will generate storms, especially intense storms,” he says.

“Climate change means we face a future where super typhoons will no longer be one-in-one hundred year events… and we refuse to accept a process that will allow a future where Super Typhoons would happen every year, and that’s what happening.”

- See more at: http://www.rtcc.org/2013/11/10/philippines-envoy-un-climate-talks-are-fight-for-countrys-future/#sthash.mpEfOH1Y.dpuf

NOTE: Yeb Sano is now fasting until the participants make meaningful progress! http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-24899647

High-res For those of you in Cebu, here are some donation centres I have come across, and a handy formula for putting together goods. 
- UP Cebu (see above)
- Gilt, Crossroads: indicate where you want your donations to go (Bantayan/ Leyte/ Northern Cebu)
- GK Cebu - Old Sacred Heart School Campus
- DiveLink for Malapascua - 35-B Amon Court , Salinas Drive, Lahug Cebu City.
NB. Plastic from the thousands of packs of relief goods can cause untold environmental damage, not to mention clogging water ways leading to flooding in the future. It happened in Manila last year, it can happen again. Please consider this thoughful way of giving a t-shirt as well as food and water:

For those of you in Cebu, here are some donation centres I have come across, and a handy formula for putting together goods. 

- UP Cebu (see above)

- Gilt, Crossroads: indicate where you want your donations to go (Bantayan/ Leyte/ Northern Cebu)

- GK Cebu - Old Sacred Heart School Campus

- DiveLink for Malapascua35-B Amon Court , Salinas Drive, Lahug Cebu City.

NB. Plastic from the thousands of packs of relief goods can cause untold environmental damage, not to mention clogging water ways leading to flooding in the future. It happened in Manila last year, it can happen again. Please consider this thoughful way of giving a t-shirt as well as food and water:

Malapascua Island, Philippines after Typhoon Haiyan/ Yolanda by Edmund JY Porter 

This is me, begging for your help. http://www.redcross.org.ph/donate

Those of you who have been following this blog for a while will know that Malapascua has essentially been my second home since 2011. I’ve worked with the Thresher Shark Research and Conservation Project, and with Green Fins on the island, and used to live at the top end of the beach in this photo. The buildings in the top photo are houses and businesses of my friends, places I’ve eaten, locations of many a merry night. I can’t even wrap my head around it. 

Like so many other places in the Philippines, it has been absolutely devastated by the typhoon, the strongest to ever make landfall in recorded history. 90% of buildings are completely written off. Miraculously, or thankfully to excellent preparation, there are no reports of casualties or fatalities, however today is the first day that aid has been able to reach the island. 

Due to the damage from the storm, the hardest hit places have been without power, phone signal, or road access since Friday, a cruel irony that aid is hardest to deliver to the places that need it the most. 

The typhoon made landfall six times, and we’re only gaining a glimpse of the extent of the damage now. Already over 10,000 people are feared dead. And communication hasn’t even been set up with some affected areas, this number is only going to rise. 

It is heartbreaking, that hundreds and thousands of people have no shelter, food or electricity. My family is still waiting to hear from my cousin and her family in Leyte, and our house in the North of Cebu is wrecked.

[EDIT: 11/11/13 Heard they are safe!!!]

I consider myself exceptionally lucky, and yet I feel totally hopeless unable to go to these places. 

I cannot overstate the level of destruction that we’re seeing. It’s war-like. It’s all I can do to not cry. So I’m going to do the only thing I can, beg for your help. Filipinos are resilient and resourceful, and as a nation, we’ll pick ourselves up and get on with it, but we desperately need your help to get there. 

Please donate. Please. 

You have so many options. You can donate to a general fund like the Red Cross, be it in your country or directly to Philippines:

http://www.redcross.org.ph/donate

You can donate directly to Malapascua, details here:

http://savephilippineseas.tumblr.com/post/66520602312/help-malapascua

I will continue to post, battery life allowing, more updates and options for aid. 

There are people out there who won’t be paying close attention, because it doesn’t directly affect them. I could even name a few friends of mine. There are some who think the scale of the disaster has been sensationalised. I can assure you it has not.