CORAL MONITORING PROJECT WEEK 2015!

Hi everyone! It’s taken a while to get this blog post off the ground, and it’s due to numerous reasons- IB, reuniting with my friends, IB, an unfortunate incident involving my camera, leading to it being out of action for a few days… did I mention IB? It’s the first week back and I’ve had two tests and a presentation due, which doesn’t sound like a lot, but one of them was a past paper history exam, and the other one was a purely knowledge based exam. Sometimes, IB is a bit of a pain!

I think the thing that’s going to make this blog post special is the photos- so I’ve written a pretty quick post, and will leave the photos do the rest!

We left campus at about 8am to head to the Philippines, so a one and a half our bus ride, 2 hour plane ride (highlight: Max and I singing very loudly, and very badly to the frozen soundtrack), 5 hour van ride, and an hour and a half boat ride later, we finally got to the hotel- La Laguna Beach Club, in Puerto Galleria, the Philippines. The first thing we did was get assigned our rooms (I was to share with Malika (Pakistan), Lina (Ecuador), Max (Hong Kong/Taiwan/Britain) and Tiffany (Hong Kong- is Emma’s roommate!). I actually ended up sharing a bed with Max, who has the most beautiful acid green hair, but that was fine!

The timetable for the days ahead were as follows: 8am class, 10am dive, 11.30 briefing, 12/1230 lunch, dive at 130, dive at 330, classroom at 530 or 6 depending, dinner at 7, team building at 8- bed as soon as possible! The classes involved such a wide variety of things- symbiotic reef relationships, the lifespan of corals, and just some basic marine biology.

The next day, we wasted no time in getting into the water, but first, a quick lesson in fish ID! Banner fish, angelfish, wrasses, coral trout, surgeonfish, jacks, blue tangs, titan fish, ramora’s, clownfish, false clownfish, puffer fish, box fish, cuttlefish, catfish, and my favourite- parrotfish, who never fail to make me smile with their psychedelic colours. I think Finding Nemo would be a piece of cake to ID now! 😉 Next up was a try at snorkelling in the local lagoon, whilst our teachers went out to familiarise themselves with the area. I definitely prefer snorkelling to diving; I got so frustrated I couldn’t stay down long enough to have a good look at the different kinds of fish I could now identify pretty confidently! Also, this was the ‘unfortunate incident involving my camera’ I mentioned earlier… My camera is an amazing one, but I think it’s taken a dislike to water, despite it being an underwater camera, which is strange. Nevertheless, I found a quote (and also begged my chemistry teacher to let me use his photos- thanks Jon!) I feel apt for this situation, from my favourite book (Into the Wild), where the main character had a similar experience to me:

“if you are stupid enough to bury a camera underground you won’t be taking many pictures with it afterwards…But this is not important. It is the experiences, the memories, the great triumphant joy of living to the fullest extent in which real meaning is found. God it’s great to be alive!”

Our first dive (the discovery dive) was in the same place, and for me it wasn’t such a great dive. Usually, I burn at the mere mention of the word sun, so determined not to burn and spend my week in agony, I completely plastered myself in sun cream. I thought this was a great idea until I got underwater, and the sun cream ran into my eyes and pretty much blinded me for the entire dive. I literally had to cling on to the fin in front of me. I was so desperate not to ruin the first dive, that I didn’t surface, which in hindsight was a stupid decision. As soon as I got out of the water, I had to just wash my eyes, and thankfully it cleared up pretty quickly, and I was fine for our next dive which was a PPB dive- a PADI course called Peak Performance Buoyancy, designed to help us develop our buoyancy underwater. This involved swimming under an A-Frame, trying to balance a golf ball on a spoon (SO MUCH HARDER THAN IT SOUNDS) without dropping it, trying to hover successfully, and just general experimentation underwater. The dive went remarkably well, but I realised pretty quickly I had a hell of a long way to go before I achieved good buoyancy.

To anyone who has not seen a coral reef up close- it is almost impossible to describe the beauty of it, and also the sheer scale of it. My first deep water dive was the next day, and it was also my first boat dive in the area, which meant that I had to perfect a back roll style entry (think James Bond). I felt so badass doing it, I will admit! The water was just so incredibly clear, the clearest I’ve ever seen, and the most gorgeous shade of blue. I have never felt so lucky in my life. All of the boats were traditional outrigger boats too!

Every day followed the same routine, but each dive was completely unique- I feel like if I described each and every dive to you, you’d get bored pretty quickly. Each day had a different focus- fish ID, coral species, invertebrates and so on, so every dive you’d spot something you had no idea what it was, but you could also spot more than enough things that you did recognize. Corals like favia, favities, xenia,… the list goes on! I think my favourite things to ID are invertebrates, because you really have to search for them- nudibranchs are definitely my favourite because they’re so cute! They look like tiny, vibrantly coloured slugs with horns, which doesn’t sound pretty, but they definitely are.

There were so many memories from this trip- seeing an utterly MAJESTIC sea turtle swim right past me, confidently swimming through a hole in a wall gracefully (well, kinda… I didn’t get stuck!), observing the shyest, but yet most curious cuttlefish I’ve ever seen in my final dive, and almost, almost loosing a coral finder (a book we use underwater to ID coral… you should have seen Jon’s (chemistry teacher) reaction when I wrote on his slate “CORAL FINDER GONE”. I’m so happy to say that the situation ended well, with Jon finding the coral finder about halfway through the dive- it was floating on the surface). Not forgetting about the time we made the lifespan of corals in play dough, or had to act out symbiotic relationships in a kind of charade, or completed our first underwater transect (albeit terribly in my case), or our favourite lunch place (a tiny, backstreet place that sold really cheap, good food), or the ladies on the beach who sold us rainbow bracelets and braided our hair. The time we all participated in a map competition, where we had to draw a map of the surrounding area, and WE WON! (Thanks to Lina, and her amazing creativity) Or perhaps even the time where our favourite restaurant did us a brilliant deal, where they prepared a sort of buffet, and we paid 100 pesos a head. I felt like I really bonded with the people on my trip, which is kind of extremely important, because you have to be prepared to share your only air source with them without hesitation or question.

Our final night was spent doing the polyp naming ceremony- where us polyps (now I’ve actually completed PW I understand what this means! A polyp is like the baby part of a coral structure) grew in planulas. I was named anglerfish (the terrifying fish from Finding Nemo with the lamp on its head), because once in a silly moment, Max and I were joking around, and I made a face that was apparently the spitting image of an anglerfish… So I’m definitely not named because I’m terrifying and have a spiky personality- it’s because I can (apparently) do a good impression of one, I swear! In hindsight, I think I should have chosen a different name, and maybe gone with a cephalopod (like an octopus or cuttlefish or squid). It sounds pretty weird, but octopi are so clever, and just so chill. Not to mention cuttlefish… I was only lucky enough to see one, but I felt incredibly lucky- it even changed colour in front of me! Max claimed the cuttlefish name before I could though, because to be fair, she changes her hair a lot, just like a cuttlefish changes skin!

In short, project week was just superb. Finally seeing what a healthy reef looks like, and the sheer magnificence of it, made me think a lot about how we’re protecting our reefs, and how what we’re doing in our every day life just isn’t enough- that’s why I joined coral monitoring in the first place, and it really reignited my passion towards the ocean. I just could not believe that Hong Kong had once ever had reefs that shared anything in common with the Philippines- Hong Kong, where the visibility is at around 2 meters at best, and the water is a constant sludge green, where you have to stay within a meter of your buddy due to not loosing them, not through good buddy drills. It really taught me the value in what we’re doing here in coral monitoring- whilst our work may not have an immediate effect like some other project weeks, and may not have the same ‘awe’ factor of service, but the transects we complete, the data we upload, and the photos we take are making a difference. I think coral is one of the more ‘mysterious’ qc’s, because no one really knows what we do, or maybe just the mechanics of what we do, and I think that’s really sad. I think it takes a (decent) human to care and be empathetic about another human’s situation, but for a human to care about a ‘piece of rock’? I think it’s just something that never really crosses their mind. It would be a different story, however, if they appreciated the stunning nature of it, and sheer importance of it- if there were no reefs, our existence would be a hell of a lot more complicated, because so many people rely on it for their livelihood, and source of food.

Oops, I think I went off on a bit of a tangent- sorry! Just a few words before I finish: Thanks so much to Jon Chui for the photos, thank you so much to my various buddies (Jimmy, Fergus, Sophie and Ebisan) for not letting me die, and for being so patient. A massive thanks to Linda, Selywn, Jon and Michele for organizing such wonderful project week, and also to the entire coral monitoring team for just being so spectacular!

Coral Love,

Tegz xxx AKA Anglerfish

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