It’s been no secret around here that I’m passionate about marine conservation and ethical tourism. I’m constantly scouring the globe for places that will allow me to be more than just a tourist and to give back in some way. When looking for opportunities in the Philippines, I stumbled upon Marine Conservation Philippines, a conservation group that just opened in December. While they weren’t set up for short term volunteers, they invited me to come check them out for a few days, and of course I jumped at the chance.
MCP is set up just outside of Zamboanguita on Negros Island, at Siit Arboretum Botanical Garden. It’s a gorgeous location, with a lot of trees and natural space, as well as trails around the property. My favorite part about the location was just how quiet it is. Far away from any major city means almost no noise or light pollution. You guys, I’ve never seen the stars and moon shine so bright at night. This is the very defnition of off-the-beaten path travel.
Why Marine Conservation Philippines is needed
The Philippines are a part of the Coral Triangle, an area of the world that is a hot spot for marine diversity. Often called the “Amazon of the Ocean”, there are over 2000 species of fish and I’d say it’s a rightfully deserved name.
There are a decent amount of Marine Protected Areas in the Philippines, which is fantastic. The problem is – there aren’t always a lot of enforcement on MPAs. Contributing to the problems in the Philippines are over-fishing, destructive fishing methods and overpopulation. On top of that, there is no way to protect against typhoons, silt runoff from erosion or the massive amount of plastic littering the ocean.
What MCP Plans To Do
Their mission statement says it all:
Our underwater world is under tremendous pressure – too much garbage and litter, especially plastic is being thrown in, and too many fish are being fished out. World-wide too little is being done to protect our vital seas. Our mission is to spread knowledge, implement solutions and help try to change the current situation before it is too late. We dream of a future and of a sea where our kids and their kids can still see and marvel at grazing sea-turtles and dugongs, see splendidly rich coral reefs, whales and sharks and seahorses and everything in between. We dream of fishing being conducted in an ecologically sound way, ensuring both the livelihood of local communities and ensuring adequate fish-stocks for the next generations. We dream of clean, pollution free beaches and mangroves.
The first steps are research and education. There are talks about potential artificial reefs to bring in tourism and more money to the local economy, but this is likely a long way off. In order to decide the best course of action, the folks at MCP must first figure out what is there – and just how threatened the species are.
They are currently undergoing extensive biological surveys to assess the richness and diversity of marine life in the area, as well as uncover what they should be looking at as indicator species (those that can define whether the ecosystem is healthy or not). This will help them measure the progress of their efforts.
What is it like to volunteer?
With only a couple days there, I feel like we barely scratched the surface. But here is what we did: listened to a fabulous lecture on fish diversity and identification. As recreational divers, this was so valuable. On subsequent dives we found ourselves saying things like “did you see that juvenile angel fish?” instead of “did you see that cool black and blue fish?”.
For lunch one day, we ate at a local market in between dives. It was so fabulous to spend an hour talking with like minded people over local Filipino food.
One morning we accompanied Helle, one of the founders of MCP, to the Wednesday market to pick up fresh, local ingredients for cooking.
Of course, you can dive almost every day. In our down time, we cooked, ate and lounged around the common areas. In the evenings we star-gazed or spent time talking with the wonderful people at MCP.
My favorite part of Marin Conservation Philippines? Hands down, the people, their passion and the effort they put into marine conservation is admirable. The love they have for the world, environment and the Philippines is so inspiring. They were accommodating, hospitable and so down to earth. Our stay was way too short, and I can’t wait to return again and see how much progress they’ve made.
If you’ve got a month or longer, I wouldn’t hesitate to check out volunteer opportunities at MCP. Between giving back to marine conservation, diving until your heart is content, visits to local markets, and hanging out with fabulous people, you really just can’t go wrong.