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Checking in on Indonesia, Philippines projects

November 12, 2014

By Karen Peterson, Program Manager

In mid-October, I traveled to meet with Seacology field representatives and visit some of our projects in the Philippines and Indonesia. I was accompanied by Mary Randolph, who will be replacing me as Seacology’s Program Manager in early 2015 (I am moving out of the Bay Area, and will be continuing with Seacology as a consulting program executive for special projects).

Together, the Philippines and Indonesia are home to over 25,000 islands, so it is no coincidence that about onequarter of Seacology’s projects have been launched in these two countries. I crafted the itinerary for this trip to share with Mary some great examples of Seacology’s marine and terrestrial projects, and to give her an opportunity to spend time face-to-face with three of our 23 field representatives.

In Manila, we met up with Seacology’s Philippine Field Representative Ferdie Marcelo and flew to the El Nido region on the island of Palawan, where Seacology has had a longstanding partnership with local NGO the El Nido Foundation. Over the past 11 years, Seacology has funded three projects with the organization El Nido. In July 2003, we supported a community-based coral reef restoration utilizing 600 artificial reef modules at Tres Marias, a popular recreational diving site and area formerly vulnerable to illegal fishing activity. Since that time, the El Nido Foundation has worked with the local communities to create 50 Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) totaling 2,251 acres in Bacuit Bay. In 2013, Seacology funded the purchase and installation of mooring buoys within the MPAs to prevent damage to coral caused by boat anchors.

Our first site visit was to the four villages of Sibaltan, New Ibajay, Villa Paz and Mabini, where in 2008 Seacology funded guardhouses, equipment, buoys, signage, and the purchase of cashew-production equipment as an alternative-livelihood enterprise in exchange for the establishment of a 1,317-acre MPA and in support of a 2,580-acre mangrove protected area. I had visited the community the year the project was approved, when community consultations were being held to both plan the construction of the guardhouses and secure the equipment, and carefully develop guidelines and determine responsibilities for the execution of the project, and of equal importance, the plans for managing and enforcing the conservation area. I was astounded by the beauty and diversity of the underwater life when I snorkeled in the MPA in 2008, but I was also dismayed by the sound of dynamite blast fishing in the distance. Illegal and destructive fishing practices by residents of neighboring islands have been a continual threat to the beautiful waters off these four villages. The vast mangrove forests fringing the villages have also been under siege by illegal cutting of wood for charcoal production.

Mary, Ferdie, El Nido Foundation staff members and I were greeting at both of the new guardhouses by community leaders, MPA committee members and enforcement patrol staff. The guardhouses, one in the more central location of Sibaltan and the other in the smaller community (though equally important in efforts to thwart potential interlopers into the MPA), are completed and are being used extensively for both keeping an eye on the marine and mangrove areas, and for community meetings, trainings, etc.

We also saw the cashew-processing equipment in use. When I visited in 2008, women in the communities were still shelling cashews painstakingly by hand. The simple machines that Seacology funded, which score the perimeter of the shells, allow the cashew nuts to be removed whole, instead of in pieces. The nuts have higher value when they are whole. The nuts are then roasted, then packaged in lovely hand-made woven boxes and sold at local resorts and tourist shops in the El Nido area.

We spent our second and last day in El Nido on the water, touring the various MPA sites around Bacuit Bay. With its beautiful, towering limestone islands and crystal-clear waters, the bay is becoming increasingly popular with tourists who are arriving in Northern Palawan in ever-increasing numbers. The El Nido Foundation is working to mitigate the impact of this increased activity by training dive and other tourist guides to conduct their operations in ways that protect the natural beauty and biodiversity of the bay’s waters, numerous small beaches, caves and other attractions.

We visited the guard boat stationed at Tres Marias, on the outer edge of Bacuit Bay and the MPAs. This area was in the past very susceptible to illegal fishing activity, so the presence of the guards, who stay on the small boat for two weeks at a time, has been vital to the protection of this special area. The artificial reef units are barely recognizable 10 years after their installation, with healthy growth evident. I asked El Nido Foundation staff members what their perspective is on this restoration project, a decade later. They remarked that the community was struck by how much easier it is to protect living coral from damage than to try to replace and rehabilitate formerly destroyed reef.

We are very proud of our longstanding partnership with the El Nido Foundation, and the great work they are doing on many fronts to protect the precious habitats and strong communities of an area pressured by illegal fishing and other exploitative activity, as well rapid development in the tourism sector. As well, our Field Representative Ferdie Marcelo is top notch. His blog, “Nature Calls,” chronicles his travels on Seacology’s behalf and is a wonderful insight into how a Seacology project is born, as well as how our project partners execute their environmental and community work.

From the Philippines, Mary and I flew on to Bali, Indonesia. Indonesia is home to more Seacology projects than any other country in the world. For this reason, it is the only nation where we have two field representatives to help us identify and monitor our island-conservation projects. Irman Meilandi, from the island of Java, and Iona Soulsby, our newest field representative from the island of Bali who has replaced our long-time former representative, Arnaz Mehta (whose family recently relocated to New Zealand), took us on a very unique site visits, to three villages with adjoining protected forests on the flanks of Mt. Batukaru, Bali’s highest mountain.

The three villages, Sarinbuana, Banjar Anyar and Banjar Bengkel, are each separated by river gorges, but their respective protected forests combined make up a contiguous area of 2,250 hectares (5,560 acres). The forest is home to a variety of birds, as well as the increasingly rare Pangolin and Leaf-eating monkey. The villages endorse traditional Balinese laws called Awig-awig that sanction forbidden activities such as hunting and cutting trees in the forest with fines, and in a worst-case scenario, expulsion from the village. In 2006, we funded the construction of a community building for music and dance, as well as traditional Gamelan musical in exchange for village endorsement of a 1,975-acre permanent no-take rainforest reserve. In 2010, we funded a community center in exchange for the protection of 1,977 acres of rainforest in perpetuity. Most recently, in February of this year, we funded a community building for the village of Banjar Bengkel, de facto custodians of a 1,606 acre rainforest area.

On our site visits, we were accompanied by I Made Putra Adajaya, who has been the leader of all three projects. We first viewed the Sarinbuana building, the largest of the three. Constructed in the traditional local open-sided style, the building was the site of a large festival a few weeks prior to our visit. We then drove through the forest via its only road (accessible only from the very top of each village) from Sarinbuana to Banjar Anyar. I was thrilled to see the progress at the site, which I had last visited in October of 2010. The traditional Balinese craftsmanship that details the building is exquisite; stonemasons were busy making intricate framing to go around the windows and doors of the back wall. From the site, we walked past an ancient temple and into the protected forest, where we witnessed the beautiful and abundant plant life while being serenaded by bird calls.

We then drove to Banjar Bengkel, where the foundation for the newest Seacology-funded community building has just been completed. We met with village leaders to discussed changes to the original plan for the building; due to newly available additional funding from another source, the center is now slated to be larger than originally planned. It will function as a meeting space as well as an office for community government and Adat (traditional leadership) functions. We met as a group to discuss the changes to ensure that the project will move forward in a timely fashion, and that the community has a solid plan for the construction and management of the larger building. Iona and Irman kindly interpreted Bahasa Indonesia to English for Mary and me. After feeling satisfied with the community leaders’ plans to execute the larger-scale project with both Seacology and other funds, I told everyone that upon receipt of financial reports regarding the first phase of construction, we could release funds for the second phase in order for the project to continue its momentum. I thanked the project and village leaders for their work in moving things forward, as well as for their strong commitment to the conservation of their forest.

Irman, Mary, Iona and I then met over lunch to talk about Seacology’s Indonesia projects as a whole, and the upcoming transition as Mary replaces me as Program Manager. The vast majority of communications with Seacology’s network of field representatives takes place via email from our headquarters in Berkeley. However, there is no substitute for visiting them in their home countries, meeting our project partners, seeing the precious habitat being protected in partnership with Seacology, experiencing day-to-day life in these communities, and reaffirming our commitment to the very special island villages that are home to our projects.