Reef Alert 2015

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Mala.

I miss you so much.

*Sigh*

I’m in a lecture now. It. Is. TERRIBLE. The lecturer can’t even speak well, and all I hear him say is “hu haz de powah” (who has the power) when we’re talking about government roles and stuff like that. I just can’t stand it, so I’m writing this much needed update.  This trip was a month ago, but I still dream of it til today. Okay, I don’t really dream of it in my sleep, but I day-dream about it. Those were the best 2 weeks of my life. I’m so glad to be going back to it again this December!!

This is going to be a very long and informative post of how marine conservation and social work is like, so if you’re interested read on! If you’re not interested, read on anyway because it’s fun to read!!!

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This trip was my overseas community service project. A student-led, marine conservation project organized by our team from the Singapore Management University. It’s called Reef Alert, and our beneficiary is The Thresher Shark Research and Conservation Project based in Malapascua Island, Cebu, Philippines. In 2015, we conducted data observation and collection of sightings of thresher sharks on Monad Shoal (the thresher shark looks like the above, a screenshot of a video I took because I had no time to take pictures! The shark featured above is about 3m long).

On top of that, we also helped to teach locals about the precautionary measures they could undertake in the event of a typhoon. We worked with a volunteer from UNICEF to come up with a plan (okay not really, she provided the outline and content of what we should present about…we just came up with how to present it) to teach the locals. I’m not a very socially-oriented person but this was great. Lecture was conducted under a tree on the beach, and even though there were language-barriers the locals were so happy and on-the-ball to participate. It was a great experience.

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The sunset I got to see every evening.

Everyday, we would wake up at 4.30am to head out to Monad Shoal to film and record the number of sharks we observed, size, gender, contemporaneous sharks, swimming direction, as well as time of sighting on a slate. Two dives in the morning, then the afternoon planning for the disaster risk reduction exercise.

It sounds really fun, and it really is. But there was a lot of training involved and it’s extremely tiring. We prepared by perfecting our trim (diving “posture”) back in Singapore before the trip, learning how to back-fin (swimming backwards without moving your body or turning around), helicopter turn (swimming clockwise/anti-clockwise on the spot) and other useful skills. All this practice enabled us to stay in one position while fighting the current, and most importantly NOT TOUCHING ANY CORALS in mid-ocean for half-an hour each dive.

It was so tiring, my butt ached. And that’s rare.

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The divesites are 25-30m deep. And it’s cold because Monad Shoal is an underwater plateau, and the sharks are around the edges of the plateau so we occasionally experience extreme thermoclines – there are times when we shiver non-stop for 45minutes. Also, when we went there was a typhoon passing a few hundred kilometres away from our location, so the waves were choppy and current was strong for a couple of days.

My buddy and I were considered the most “unlucky” on the boat because for the first 4 dives (2 days), we saw no sharks whilst everybody else had already seen 1. They’d shake my hand and say: “Congratulations” because I didn’t have to do any paperwork. Bich.

But when I saw my first shark, it was surreal. It was an ordinary dive, and I was very sian-ly swimming along following the dive instructor to my allocated position. When suddenly out the blue a 3m long beauty just swam directly at me and my jaw dropped. OK not literally if not my mouth would have been filled with water but yah you get what I mean. I will show you a video if I could put one here but nope I’m a tech noob.

Anyway, we must have clocked about 28 dives and 21 hours of dive time each. It was amazing.

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This is a random photo but it’s a nudibranch on a night dive.

I miss it so much, but thankfully I have been privileged with the responsibility of taking over the expedition and leading a fresh team back to Malapascua. I’m excited, but nervous at the same time. Mostly about my team’s safety. Also about any contingencies that may occur while we’re there. With 15 individual’s lives in your hands, it is quite pressurizing. I have a lot to live up to, and I’m going to do my best to deliver.

I can’t wait!

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