And so field season starts.

The last week of January marked the start of our research lab’s field season, AKA the time of year where we spend half the time out on coral reefs, markets, and community groups and the other half preparing for the next trip. Thought it gets exhausting, I love it! πŸ˜€

Our first trip of the year took us to Bolinao and Anda in Pangasinan. They’re logical starting points because everybody in MSI does research in Bolinao. Working out of the Bolinao Marine Laboratory is the perfect starting point for a new lab because it provides practically everything we need, thus easing us into the hazy maze of logistics, finances, permission letters, and the myriad other things involved in organizing a trip.

Bolinao and Anda basically served as our training grounds. Our lab head and one of the project’s Project Staff demonstrated how to conduct focus group discussions (FGD) with the local fishermen. Since historical data regarding Philippine fisheries is pretty spotty, we rely on the community’s expertise and historical knowledge to fill in the gaps. And since we don’t want to make coming to the FGD difficult, we go to where is most convenient for the community to gather. Whether it’s the barangay hall:

00 fishers at FGD

Or underneath a large mango tree in the Barangay Captain’s backyard, we’re there πŸ˜€

01 fishers at Pilar FGD

After a day of demonstrations, we were on our own. I don’t think we did too badly πŸ˜›

03 Carot, Anda_Jan 2015_FGD_001_small

This FGD was done in the middle of the road! We couldn’t fit inside the kagawad’s house so we had to bring it outside. We had tricycles passing through our group every now and then. After the FGD, we got to go around and observe the community at work.

There were fishermen and women beating their nets to remove the fish they caught:

05 fisherwoman_small

And women preparing rabbitfish (Family Siganidae) for drying.

06 preparing danggit_small

Danggit, or dried rabbitfish, is a popular Filipino dish. The most common rabbitfish in the Bolinao-Anda area is Siganus fuscescens.

04 Siganus fuscescens danggit

We also intercepted fishermen at their landing sites and asked if we could measure and weigh the fish that they caught. The fishers were really nice and allowed us to do this.

09 Siganus guttatus caught

We had to wake up before dawn to meet the fishers. We looked pretty happy though.

06 team at sunrise

Aside from the fishermen, we talked to the market vendors too, asking about their prices and where they got their stocks. Two of our labmates used to do this type of work with the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) so they were old hands at charming the ladies. It also helped that we were there during the off-peak market hours and that we bought something from practically every seller we interviewed.

04 market survey

Some dried flying fish:

08 dried fish

And Bolinao’s famous danggit:

07 danggit in market

We have several more monitoring stations to go: Lian in Batangas, Sablayan in Occidental Mindoro, Taytay in Palawan, and Samal Island in Davao. Those don’t include the random areas that we’re going to visit only once for the national assessment project. Here’s to more science and how local communities can benefit from scientific research πŸ™‚

 

On our way back to BML! #work #sunshine

A photo posted by Macy (@theislandergirl) on

Science Nerd Mode at the 3rd APCRS

These past few months have been pretty crazy. So these things happened this May and June:

1. Co-organized Nexcon, a f*cking kickass science fiction and fantasy convention
2. Went to Japan for the first time. JAPAN!
3. Helped train DENR (Department of Environment and Natural Resources) personnel in coral reef survey methods
4. Presented at my first international scientific conference: the 3rd Asia-Pacific Coral Reef Symposium (APCRS)
5. Went to Taiwan for the first time to present at APCRS and to explore

The blog posts will not be in chronological order. There. You have been warned πŸ˜›

Anyway, this here blog post is about APCRS. The Asia-Pacific Coral Reef Symposium (APCRS) is an international gathering of scientists, policy makers, natural resource managers, and other stakeholders to share research and experience in coral reef biology, ecology, and conservation. I wrote about the conference here.

I wasn’t part of any research project and I didn’t want to ask for money from DOST (because that money always comes with strings attached) so I ended up paying for almost the entire trip out-of-pocket: the conference registration, hotel rooms, plane ticket, everything. I lucked out in that some of my labmates scored funding so they paid for the hostel rooms in Taipei both before and after the conference and since I have valid US and Canadian visas, I was visa-exempt for Taiwan.

We took an 11:00pm flight out of Manila on June 20 and landed in Taipei at 1:30am the next day. Took a cab to the hostel because the airport buses stop running at 12pm and arrived there at around 3am. Note to self: don’t take any more red-eye flights as much as possible. Gyah. June 21 was our lone “full” day in Taipei before taking the High Speed Rail from Taipei to Kaohsiung the next day. From Kaohsiung, it took a 2-hour bus ride to finally get to Pingtung.

This is me at Taipei Main Station killing time before our scheduled train. Since we were taking the HSR from end to end, we could take the express train with fewer stops and cut the travel time to 1 hour and 30 minutes instead of 2 hours.
02 me in taipei main station_ver2

Pingtung felt like Boracay sans the sand. Not sure why that is, but the Taiwanese don’t build permanent structures on the beach (local zoning laws maybe?). There are hotels, bars, and restaurants that face the beach but all the actual partying takes place on the road behind the hotels, parallel to the beach. I found that an excellent alternative to Boracay’s usual scene as it means less trash on the beach. After registering at the conference hotel, we walked back home and looked around for a place to eat. We met a Filipino waiter who recommended that we NOT enter the restaurant he was promoting because the food was expensive and not that good. Haha. When we asked him why he told us that, he said “E kababayan kayo e” (“You’re Filipino too”).

03 Pingtung night time

APCRS was a great experience. I learned a lot of new things from a lot of different people. Funnily enough, I just noticed near the end of APCRS that I ended up meeting a greater proportion of Singaporean, Malaysian, and Hong Kong-Chinese researchers and students because they were working on one of my favorite topics: the impact of pollution and sedimentation on coral reefs. I presented a paper (entitled Spatial Variation of Coral Recovery in the Shallow Water Reefs of Bacuit Bay, El Nido, Palawan one Year After the 2010 Mass Bleaching Event, co-authored with my adviser) during the mini-symposium on coral bleaching and the impacts of climate change on reefs (my other favorite research topic). It was a supremely nerve-wracking experience and despite practicing several times, I still ended up talking a little too fast and ended my presentation with several minutes to spare. Ack. The moderators asked me two questions and three (three!) people told me that my research was interesting. YES! Although fine, one of those was a friend so I suppose that doesn’t count. All of the other COMECO labmates who came to APCRS were fisheries people so I only saw them during the breaks and only one of them attended my presentation. Ah well. The perils of having differing research interests.

02 me with APCRS sign

Aside from being able to learn from other, more experienced researchers, another thing I loved about APCRS was the chance to catch up with some science friends. I attended a training workshop in Sanya, China in 2011 (read about it here) and I saw many of the same students in APCRS. On the making friends front, I liked the IOC-WESTPAC training better because there were fewer participants (about only 2-3 per university) and and many of them also stayed in the marine station. In our case, we were billeted with the Thai and Malaysian participants, who were given a separate area because of their dietary restrictions. We added each other on Facebook afterwards and kept in touch. After three years of talking online, we finally saw each other again. Lots of hugs and “OMG you’re here!” all around, plus updates on what we’ve each been up to.

This is Mathinee from Thailand. She’s taking her PhD in Japan and the culprit behind the smuggled sake (more on that later). This brilliant lady studies coral diseases.

19 mathinee

And this one is Yan from Singapore. She’s taking her PhD in Australia, shifted her research to seagrass (noooo!!!), and became a Whovian because of her Australian friends. Dangly TARDIS earrings!

22 yan

And this is Eric from Hong Kong. His work focuses on how pollution affects coral reproduction (perfect research topic for Hong Kong, IMHO).Β We actually saw each other a few months after the training in Sanya when I went to Hong Kong. He also came to El Nido earlier this year but since I wasn’t based there anymore, I asked Virgie to help him out. He and his friends now grace posters promoting stand-up paddleboard tours (not because of Virgie!), but that’s a story for a different day.

20 eric

He and his labmates from the Chinese University of Hong Kong are campaigning against the construction of a third runway at Hong Kong International Airport because the land reclamation will, among other things, drive out the few Chinese white dolphins still left in the bay. The reclamation will be the second-largest in Hong Kong’s history, only beaten by the reclamation to construct HKIA in the first place. Read more about it here.

No solo photos with Iris but I do have this nice photo of Team Philippines courtesy of Richard πŸ˜€ Lots of Filipino scientists at the conference, including those who represented universities outside of the Philippines. Apparently, the National University of Singapore is a popular destination for recent MSI graduates.

team Philippines at APCRS 2014_smaller

I also (sorta) got to make new friends courtesy of the student night. They took all the students who signed up to attend and randomly distributed them around several picnic tables where they could talk while grilling their own food. A noble effort and I did get to talk to the guys in my group but I’m a naturally shy person and don’t make friends easily. Ack. The organizers supplied beer and soda but Mathinee smuggled in some extra-strength sakeΒ [rice wine] from Japan that she so generously shared with the other students.Β I thought I would be prepared for the burn because of the sake-tasting in Japan but I was wrong πŸ˜›Β The students were also supposed to present a “cultural performance” per country. No one prepared anything serious but I have to give credit to the Thai group for gamely going first and kicking things off with a lovely (and slightly drunken) dance number. Everything else flowed after that. The large amounts of beer probably helped too.

These lovely photos came from Eric.Β The top one has Dr. Nina Yasuda, me. Rem (my labmate), Yuta (Dr. Yasuda’s student – he studies population genetics), and Eric.
02 instax photos from eric

APCRS 2018 will be held in Cebu so I’m really looking forward to it. Let’s hope I get to publish and do more research before then πŸ˜›

Dive El Nido (part 2)

Also known as Entry to Ailsa’s “Oceans” Challenge Part 2. Here are three more photos from the past week of diving we did. I can finally sleep now!

The classic shot of the South Miniloc dive site in El Nido. “South Mini” is known for the field of foliose Turbinaria corals (AKA cabbage corals) and the school of yellow-lined snapper (Lutjanus lutjanus) hovering over it.
The yellow-lined snapper (Lutjanus lutjanus). They’re the main stars of South Mini. I wanted to change the white balance of this photo but unfortunately, the dial on my camera housing wasn’t working πŸ™
Edu picked up a friend during the dive! This little golden trevally (Gnathanodon speciosus) followed us from 20 meters depth all the way back to the boat!

El Nido’s underwater denizens

I returned to full-time work in El Nido, Palawan last September 18. Much thanks to my boss who let me fly out the day after my birthday πŸ™‚

I’m slowly returning to the swing of things, considering that I’ve been away for three years now. It doesn’t help that I don’t recognize most of the staff, which is especially embarrassing since everyone seems to know who I am *blushes*. So yes, I need to learn everyone’s names ASAP.

One of the bright spots is that I’ve already gone diving twice with my handy-dandy Canon S95 camera in its Ikelite underwater housing and got some decent shots despite the limitations of not-so-good visibility and lack of strobe. Just a reminder: despite what the gearheads say, you do not need fancy underwater camera gear in order to take great photos. The trick is to know what your camera can do and to work with (not against!) those limitations. If it doesn’t do well in low light, then focus on taking photos in shallow water. Take a white slate with you for on-the-spot white balance correction so that you don’t rely on the camera’s “Underwater” setting. Limited flash range? Take macro photos! Again, it’s all about making the most of what you have and not moaning about what you don’t.

And now, presenting El Nido’s quirky underwater denizens!

Disclaimer: since I’m studying to become a marine biologist specializing in coral reef ecology, what I find interesting may be somewhat different from other people πŸ˜›

[slideshow]

Yes, that is a hawksbill sea turtle. And it was feeding. And I got HD video too. YEAAH! πŸ˜€ For the curious ones, the red spots are caused by the water having lots of suspended particles. This was one of the times it would have been great to have a separate strobe but hey, I’m not angsting about it πŸ™‚