Posts Tagged ‘Coral Cay’

Napantao Skwad

Pip, Nathan, Angus, Lester (me), Lois, Felipe, Leo, Aarron and Sarah!

Its been a two-digit number of days since I left as a local scholar for the Coral Cay Conservation in Napantao Reef in Southern Leyte, Philippines. The adjustment to come back to the outside world was tougher than expected as I had to right away prepare to finish my Masters at SouthWestern Uni and capping off summer for artschool in  UP-Cebu for the Fine Arts degree.  But who am I kidding? I just simply miss all the fun, friendship,  and learning in that remote area. Like most of the volunteers, we just didn’t want all of it to end. But the busy streets of Cebu and familiar papers for Uni beckons me to write at least a descent public post beyond my private journal. I owe CCC that much, so here’s my experience!

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Illegal boating on our off-day Sunday! (c) Leo Willis

I applied to become a local scholar for CCC last February and was fortunate to get selected for the July 19 expedition. But I got moved for the June expedition, which is a real blessing. I knew of Coral Cay for years as an international NGO operating  in Sogod Bay in my home province of Southern Leyte. But I never got the wind to apply or check them out. Until I injured my knee late in 2015 that keep me out of running races and pushed me to rehabilitate through freediving. I fell madly in love with the sea. Since the then I left my job in finance, pursued fine arts and and made tough decisions in life but one thing I got right was spending a month in Napantao to learn the way of the scuba and the sweet science of the seas.

I soon learned Coral Cay in Napantao isnt just about a Europeans’ avenue for research and tropical holidays. Volunteers and staff, Europeans or Filipinos, are there to make a difference to the local community and learning the skills and knowledge necessary to protect the sea. They trained their volunteers and local scholars to have the capacity to collect data underwater that will be used for scientific papers and commendations to set up marine protected areas and other form of legislation. I felt honored to be a local scholar who happens to be one of the direct stockholders of what CCC stands for in the Bay.

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SDP! SDP!

There are two major training each volunteers and local scholars must undergo before doing the actual ‘data collection’ in surveys: learning to dive and learning  the science of the sea. It’s one week of scuba diving course up to Advance Open Water. Then two weeks of  Skill Development Program (SDP!) that includes lectures, exams and underwater validation.  And one week for surveys (you’ll be very proud to be very familiar about fishes, corals, substrates, invertebrates and survey methodologies). I struggled in some part of the training and  I’m not going to throw away excuses that I do have zero background in marine biology nor the fact that I went full 7 years of dumb-ing down my brain in the industry before coming back to Uni.  I’m thankful for the opportunity to learn for free and I can proudly say “Hey I gave my best and I actually survived it all!” Beers. Beers. Beers.

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The Aarron and Leo Tag Team. (c) Pip Roe

By the end of our first week of the expedition I was the only Filipino left after my fellow scholar Janine of SLSU and Lucas the Filipino volunteer left for valid reasons. So I was the lone Pinoy on the dinner table during the entire time. I wont lie it was scary at first thinking how I’d survive living with the British-heavy European population on the base. Will they accept and treat me like equal? Can I communicate well enough to them? Will I be discriminated on my own bay? But these thoughts are really silly man. Its borderline inappropriate. Everyone from Staff to Volunteers made sure everybody belong and no one left behind (no matter how dumb we are in SDP). My spoken English skills greatly improved thanks to all the long talks and silly jokes we do everyday. Its really different talking to native English speakers than speaking English in a university or office settings. There is no better words I can put this but I have nothing but the highest regards to these Western folks.

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But in Coral Cay fashion, learning about the seas is just one part of the package, the other part is: learning each others’ cultures. Sure we have very very different cultures, educational backgrounds, experiences, and even age gaps but every one treats everybody as family. My favorite part of the base beside doing chores is the dinner table not just for the great meals, but its the area where we can exchange our thoughts, daily plans, ideas and, most importantly, jokes. Their British humor is really divine. There, I adapted to use fork and knife to eat, Filipino uses spoon and fork, or sometimes by hands. I ate less rice but more veggies. I also learn that there’s are several British accents (Asians worship the James Bond accent), I’m most fond of Lois’ Kent accent and dreaded Leo’s faster Bristol version (and I’m closest to the latter volunteer). I’m not sure if they learned from me but I did answered any curiosities they have about the Filipino culture. If they don’t like something about my culture especially corrupt politics and sweet-and-oily culinary, I always blame it to the Spanish colonization. And Felipe, our dear Project Scientist, is Spanish.  LOL.

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A month is such a cruel short time to squeeze in everything at Coral Cay. We are always on a hurry rushing out to meet the day’s dive and daily plans. With two dives a day one mush have a tough mind to survive the grind. There’s always something to do the whole day from the 7am breakfast to the 7pm fellowship dinner. Our personal time mostly comes at night which are spent on reading books, studying, joking around or just chilling at the porch over a bottle of beer. No TV, no Newspaper and shitty internet connection. Life at its simplest best.

It was also a month friendship. I didn’t really have much chances before to meet friends from Europe. Now I have 11 new friends from UK, Spain and Belgium! It was a close atmosphere and I’m thankful for the mutual respect and acceptance. That is what makes really hard to say goodbye to those folks (even if I live just on the opposite corner of the Bay). Those were my brothers and sisters for a brief period of time. Those mural paintings I made at the base, it was a Thank You love letter for all of them. I havent told anyone. But as long as those painting are there I really hope our friendship and learning will last a lifetime.

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Going beyond my Coral Cay sojourn, I’m a better  artist and a nature conscious person now. I’ll just focus my resources and projects about conservation. Its my new niche. But the most important thing I gained here is the awakened passion to protect not just my Sogod Bay but the entire seas. I hope I can really make an impact on my creative pursuits. Its true I put on a massive effort to present art plates last semester centered about marine conservation, but after Coral Cay I’m doing that full time with more conviction and wiser in the ways of the sea. It will be an exciting year ahead  in art school.

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Back to outside world, it looks like everyone is going back to school this year starting this August with me at UP-Cebu. Leo’s on his last year for his degree in Wildlife Conservation. Lois and Pip (my scuba instructor) will take their masters in Marine Biology. Sigh. Will I behold such beauties again? Angus will take on his doctorate in Mechanical Engineering. Nathan will finish his research on jellyfish for his dissertation after teaching SDP  the rest of the year. Felipe would likely pursue his doctorate. Sarah our SDP fairy god-person is back teaching. Aaron will make a terrific dad and hopefully an exciting new career. And Ben I dont he owes me P1000 for a wicked watercolor frame.

It was damn good month. Now let’s get on with our lives. Salamat Napantao. Salamat Coral Cay!

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Salamat sa pagbasa!

 

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