‘Planting Corals in Baler,’ A Truly Rewarding Project out of Passion and Love

Posted By: Margie Babon

 

The first planting of corals in Baler, Aurora Province led by marine biologist Mark Dimzon.

 

To be involved with the environmental conservation is a responsibility of each one of us. As a dweller on this planet, giving concern through volunteering on planting trees, cleaning the river, animal welfare, giving workshop on environmental education and advocacy, etc. are wonderful activities to be grounded with the earth and get connected to people with the same passion.   Though working with the environmental issues is a stressful and frustrating job  (as I personally experience it during my younger years for more than a year that seems what we are doing is unsuccessful and unfulfilled) still, there are people out there who won’t give up to take part for the solution of troubled environment.

 

Like our old friend Mark Dimzon, a marine biologist who came back to a place where he owes his surfing skills in order to share his passion in marine conservation initiative. With the help of local government, local surfer and local fishermen, the coral restoration project becomes a success.

 

Find out the full story from the interview with Mark and his photo documentaries on how the project was implemented and what the lessons he wants to convey for the humanity when it comes to environmental conservation.

 

 1.       Why did you choose Baler among any other places in the Philippines for coral restoration project?  Is the project first ever in the Philippines?

  • I used to do marine conservation work in Baler 9 years ago funded by Spanish Organization called FUNDESO and I pretty much  know all the local people that we used to work with.  I lived there for 2 years and got attached to the community.  My university called me up if I could work for them cause I knew the people around the place and I am familiar of the place that I would be working on so I signed up for a “second round” of conservation working on so I signed up for a “second round” of conservation work.
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  • It is the first national Project in the Philippines under DOST program which covers from parts of Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao.  Though coral restoration programs has been going on in several sites in the country but not on a massive scale.

 

Mark Dimzon (standing) who leads the coral conservation in Baler

 

2.       Do you lead the project? Is it a personal project based on grant? Who finance the project? If grant, who helped you for the support.

  • Yes, technically, I lead the project in the area.  Each project site has a Project Development Officer who is based and basically run the program with the direction of our Team Leaders.  The Project is funded by the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) with the technical assistance of University of San Carlos Marine Biological Section and in cooperation with Aurora State College of Technology (ASCOT).

 

Coast guard volunteer

 

3.       Give us a short background how coordination was done with Baler government in making the project feasible.

  • Actually, Baler was not part of the project site in the proposal.  But with the initiative of Hon. Senator Edgardo J. Angara to include Baler in the program the project was implemented.  Most of the project sites in the program were backed up by Congressmen and Governors in their respective provinces and Former Sen. Angara intended to bring coral restoration project in his Province in Aurora.

 

Volunteer enjoying the conservation initiative

 

4.       What is the primary aim of the project? How will it benefit the community and the marine biodiversity? Give us a gist of the importance of marine life and replanting corals.

  • Well, there are 2 primary aims of the project.  First to rehabilitate and restore damaged coral reef in Baler and second to increase tourism through showcasing novel coral conservation initiative in the region.  Baler is not a well-known dive spot in the country but through this initiative, awareness is raised to another level and more and more tourists will be attracted to visit the site and go for a dive or for a snorkel or even partake on “planting” corals.
  • Community will greatly benefit when tourism increases and also your coral reef becomes healthy.  A healthy coral reef ecosystem means a healthy supply of fishery products.  In the long run if it is managed sustainably it’s a win-win condition both for man and nature.

 

 

 

 

  • Baler is naturally blessed with bountiful supply of marine life!  You see corals reefs and other marine creatures are intricately interconnected.  When your coral reefs dies, so does your fisheries, your tourism and community livelihood.  Replanting corals to damaged reefs will have a positive result to fisheries so does the lives of the local community in the area.

 

Rich marine ecosystem in Baler

 

Palanan Mayor volunteering

 

5.       What are the specific locations in Baler that you plant corals for conservation?

  • Baler is the only project site on the eastern seaboard of the Philippines.  Unlike many project sites in the Philippines, Baler is exposed to high ocean waves and typhoons.  We found Dicasalarin Cove as decent coral nursery because it is protected by strong wave action and surges.  The coral restoration site was in Aniao reef, we had chosen this site because it is a Marine Protected Area which our newly transplanted corals should be protected from fishing activities.

 

Abundant ecosystem of Baler

 


Largest Tridacna maxima that Mark has ever seen

 

 

6.       How many days or weeks or months does it take you to complete the project? State project dates in Baler (start until end).

  • The project was only for a year, May 2012- May 2013.

 

Locals are giving their time to make the project a success.

 

7.       Any challenges you overcome to complete the project.

  • The implementation of the project was quite a challenge, the work was carried out on June 2012 after a series of meetings and courtesy calls in town.  High season starts around August and during this time some storm swells starts to come in during this time and diving is much difficult to carry out.  The site can be accessed by boat which carries most of our supplies and gears and it can be sometimes dangerous to deal with squalls and choppy sea condition.  You may carry out underwater activities but they are very limited due to strong current, underwater surges and sometimes water visibility.  As a leader in the area you have to think of the safety measures seriously especially if you have volunteers.
  • The team that I had was basically rookie divers and took them awhile to get used to work underwater and under pressure.
  • I had limited diver volunteer when we implemented the project but in the end the local surfers came to aid and greatly saves the mission.  I had to employ brilliant local hookah divers or compressor divers in Castillo that made the project successful.

 

Planting corals that takes days to finish.

 

Local surfer watching his work if the newly planted corals are being tied properly.

 

8.       Who are the relentless people who devote and volunteer their time in making the project successful (you can cite complete name for the credits).

 

  • Too many to mention actually but I can name the groups:

i.      Local Surfers from different Clubs

ii.      Baler Surf under Teddy and Ria Romero

iii.      Philippine Coast Guard Baler Detachment under Cmdr. Antolin

iv.      Charlie Does Surf under Alex Angara and Joe Cole

v.      Baler “Legendary” Surfers

Local surfers are enjoying the coral restoration initiative

 

vi.      Provincial Tourism Office under Micheal Palispis

vii.      Local Fishermen of Sitio Castillo specially to the Compressor Men under “Muloy” Garcia and Kids

viii.      Dicasalarin Crew under Ka Roman and the Dumagats

ix.      DENR Ruel Porbido

x.      PROJECT Crew Romar Porbido, Boat Captain Ka Bernard “Van Dame” Ritual

xi.      ASCOT’s Dr. Marvelosa Carmona and Dr. Eusebio Angara and some crew of AMRDI

Lots of volunteer who help to make the project a success for a year.

 

Another volunteer who take part for the project

 

 

9. How did you coordinate with the locals?

  • Coordinating with local, I formally and personally invited them through project orientation.

 

Philippines’ First Surfers engage in coral restoration…. Another history in the making

 

10. Any illegal fishermen who volunteers with you that somehow you have changed his mind to be good with nature? If there is, share a short story.

Looks can be deceiving… Compressor men are on our side in Baler.Try planting coral 3 hrs. straight then you know where your heart is. Without any oxygen supply at all, these local fishermen are true heroes devoting their skills in planting corals.

 

 

  • Yes, there are illegal fishermen who volunteer with us and they were compressor men of Castillo.  First few months of intense diving before the high season came, we kind of handled it.  But during the last few months of project termination, they saved the whole project.  You see, they are quite hesitant at first to work with a government project because of the nature of their work.  But I persuaded them to work with me to change their “bad” reputation of being illegal fishers into reef savers.  Of course I have to employ them temporarily to be part of the team for them to sustain their day to day needs for their family.

 

Conservation heroes–illegal fishermen turned into marine conservationist who worked too hard for the project.

  • As soon as they got the hang of carrying the mission they felt inspired of how coral conservation is helping the environment in the long run.  They felt hardships working underwater nurturing corals for few months and destruction could be so swift and fast if left unprotected.  Their help was phenomenal!!! Their efforts should be highly acknowledge by our community, political leaders, conservationist, scientist and the world!

  • Working with them was a privilege for me to witness their efforts and I am inspired every time I think of them whether they are working with me or doing their dangerous fishing trips.  I was the person who was greatly inspired and they have changed me.  The next generation of fishermen should look up to them as conservation champions!

 

 

11. Describe the complete process of planting corals. How many hours does it takes you to cut a seedling and transfer it to a new habitat.

Collecting corals to replant.

 

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  • In the reef that we are working in, coral fragments or live corals that were chipped or broken off from the reef either through natural cause, or man-made cause is common in the area.  These live coral fragments have still a fighting chance to survive and grow back on the reef through culturing them in our “coral nursery units”.

 

coral nursery being tied on the rope with the use of G.I. wires.

 

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  • The nursery units are series of coral fragments tied to a GI wire and suspend them in series of ropes.  It’s like hanging corals on laundry lines.  Then when they recuperate and over grown the wire we attached them to a concrete nail peg to a dead solid reef then strap them with a cable tie or epoxy clay.  Overtime they over grow the nails and ties and epoxy and “rooted” themselves on to the dead reef.  Thus, colonizing new substrates as growing corals.

 

 

 

  •  The time of planting varies from person to person, but a seasoned or “expert planter” could take around 10-15 fragments per minute an average of 50-60 fragments per hour per person. It’s a tough conservation job working with the elements underwater.

 

 

12.   This project is very inspiring and important esp. in this time that nature is depleting one by one, how do you see the value of putting effort in this kind of work?  Share the lessons you have learned from this project.

  • It is very rewarding and this kind of job is a job that you have to put passion and pure love in order for you to accomplish.  And that’s how one works in a nature conservation job.  You have to believe in the project and inspire more and more people to take part in the initiative and that’s the lesson there.  We can save the reef if we set aside politics and personal differences and put more work in time and not time on work.

 

 

13.   There are a lot of courses in college that you can take, but why you choose Marine Bio?    Is serving the environment for greater good is your passion? If yes, why?

  • To take up marine biology course is my calling.  Since I was a child,  I am fascinated with the marine world and all the creatures living in its realm.  At a young age, I saw my birth island where my parents used to work in a Mining Industry in a tiny island off Surigao that a portion of the island was destroyed and the other side was pristine as I recall whenever my family goes to the beach every Sunday.  At a young age, I saw life and death in our marine habitat and swore when I grew up I would be the person to help these creatures.  Basically my love for the sea kept on growing and growing till I reached my teens.  For a normal teen, busy with peers, relationships and sports and other activities, I was having an intimate relationship with the sea basically spending my weekend fishing, snorkeling and mingling with the fishermen.  My mission just started when I finished my degree in Marine Biology and till now the journey never ended and the tasks and mission gets more and more serious and interesting.

  • Serving the environment is everyone’s tasks and mission but passion will keep one from going and going for an extra mile.  If you don’t love your job then it’s pointless to do any tasks, that mission will become your own passion.

 

 

Of the total coral reefs in the Philippines only 5% are still in good condition, degradation of our reefs is fast unless we have to intervene. One way of giving something back to mother nature and the Locals of Baler…

14.    Any words of encouragement to every human being in order to raise the level of awareness   and how to be responsible even in small ways in conserving and preserving our environment?

  • In our small ways, keep conserving and recycling household resources from electricity, water and plastics.  Conservation education starts from every home and every family in the community, teach kids at a young age to be more proactive in dealing with our simple household resources and wastes, I think we will get a positive awareness in the future to come.

 

Growing just fine, the coral fragment “eating up” the wire.

 

Successful coral nurseries growing already during the monitoring period.

 

 

 

15.   As a marine biologist and environmentalist by heart, share unforgettable experience (s) that touches your heart and soul.

  • Couple of years back, when I taught marine conservation and preservation to some kids in a fishing community that protects the marine environment, it should be a way of life that kids can also do by not throwing trash and plastics to the river.  So one of the kids went home and shared his experience with the short lecture about protecting the environment.  Then one day she approached me crying because she was slapped by her father regarding a nonsense lecture, she got slapped because she told off her father who threw garbage into the river.  I felt really really bad about it and it just pierced through my heart of what had happened.  Young minds can make the difference in the future if we nurture them at early age on conservation values.
a child enjoying the coral restoration project

a child enjoying the coral restoration project

 

 

16.    Tell us about yourself, where do you live, family (name of kids and wife), and how many years you are working as marine biologist, names of organization you are working with (or volunteer with).  And what is your future work in Hawaii?

Marine biologist Mark Dimzon during the Baler Coral Conservation Project

 

  • I am Mark Darwin Dimzon and I am 34yrs old married to a mangrove conservationist herself Janine Caynap Dimzon.  We have 2 adorable daughters named after Hawaiian name Kailana, 2yrs 5mos old and the youngest name after a Hawaiian surfer Alana, 9 months.  I’ve been working on my profession for 13 years now.  Been with different institution in the Philippines such as University of San Carlos as a volunteer diver for Coral Farming Project in Olanggo Island in Cebu, The Marine Science Institute, University of the Philippines in Diliman based in Pangasinan for Giant Clam Project.

Mark’s wife who is a mangrove conservationist Janine with their two beautiful daughter

  • Then I came to Baler, Aurora working with Fundacion Desarollo Sustenido for Coastal Resource Management Project.  I have worked with Southeast Asian Fisheries Development Center-Aquaculture Department (SEAFDEC-AQD) in Iloilo for Stock Enhancement Program working on Giant Clams and Seahorse Breeding.  After several years working here in the Philippines I got my childhood dream job working for a Public Aquarium in Sentosa’s Underwater World in Singapore before moving to Dubai Aquarium and Underwater Zoo where I gained mature experience on an aquarium industry.  I came back to Philippines 3 years ago and work back again in Baler for the National Coral Restoration Project under DOST.

Mark at Waikiki Aquarium in Hawaii with Mother’s Day greeting for his wife and mother.

  • Then I have given a great opportunity to work with a world renowned aquarium in the world at Waikiki Aquarium under the management of University of Hawaii, Manoa.  Not a bad job for a Marine Biologist who also loves Surfing!  Hope you come and visit the Filipino Aquarium Biologist at Waikiki!!

The passion Mark has aside from being a marine biologist–a surfer where he owe much of his skill in Baler, Aurora enjoying the waves for more than 8 years.

Aloha!!

 

 

Newly spring coral during the monitoring period

 

Baby cuttlefish snatching juvenile fish at the nursery!

 

The successful coral nurseries in Baler, Aurora province

 

Coral nursery is a new home for colorful fish and other marine species.

 

Great volunteers who has the heart for the environmental conservation. Congratulations to all of you! Job well done!

Grateful to all the volunteers who has the heart for the environmental conservation. Congratulations to all of you! Job well done!

 

 

 

About 

Margie Babon was given a privilege to become a wildlife photographer in 2006 that let her choose to be a vegetarian for seven years now. Has background in film making as a producer and researcher on the plight of Agta-Dumagat documentary film Children of the Mountains that garnered the 2005 Mark Haslam Awardee  in Toronto, Canada. Sharing her passion in photography, drawing & creative writing  is a great opportunity to express her wisdom which is beyond academic teaching career for more than five years in College of Architecture and School of Fine Arts.

 

 

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