Selfless Seekers: The Caramoan Coral Reefs Conservation Project

Though not from the Philippines, husband and wife Bryan and Jacinda Martin go hand in hand with the locals of the Camarines Sur islands in Bicol region to help better the livelihoods of the people in the area one healthy coral reef at a time.

Biorock reef domes situated at Tugawe Cove | Photo courtesy of Jorel Valmores

The waters of Caramoan Islands may be so crystalline that one might think it’s in its most perfect shape—the marine biodiversity is hale and hearty, there’s rarely a sight of waste on and below the surface, no industrial factories to spew chemical threats around the area—I’ve painted quite a good picture there, except that it’s 2019 and we, humans, are practically one step closer to destroying every good thing nature has provided us. One look at it and it’s easy to worry about its future—take some of our islands we deemed paradises, for example. But it’s different for Jacinda and Bryan Martin, project managers for Caramoan with the Coral Triangle Conservancy, an NGO in the Philippines working to restore coral reefs throughout the country.

The couple, originally from California, chose to live a life of passion and purpose in the Philippines. Looking at the waters of Caramoan, the two saw in it hope for the failing coral reefs and the community to live in fruitful harmony, thus the founding of Reefs for Life.

Sitio Casil-itan before noon; Bryan Martin with Reefs for Life Staff showed their diving equipment, which is stored at their home in Caramoan after the interview with the team

Compassion to Action

Bryan and Jacinda Martin, both certified divers, have been living in the Philippines for 15 years now. Their genuine concern for the locals and their way of life on the island led to a discovery which would soon be the groundwork for their community projects and charity causes.

Being fluent in Tagalog, the two did an interview about the livelihood and the status of the coral reefs in the area when they first came to Caramoan. Since they’ve been living on the island, fishery has been the main source of income for most of the residents in the area. And while it’s easy to suggest to people to just work hard and strive for all that nature provides, there are more outlying problems that we tend to overlook. Most of the fishermen worry about the lack of boats for fishing because they can no longer catch fish in the shallows, so they need to sail some distance from the shore in order to catch some. And as it turned out, the death of the coral reefs drove the fish away to the depths. The culprit? Cyanide and dynamite fishing.

Lumuwas kami, nag-survey kami [about] sa kanilang coral reef and nakita namin ’yong reef doon sa harapan ng kanilang barangay, patay. Bumalik kami sa kapitan, nagtanong kami ano nangyari sa inyong coral reef, inamin nila may nagda-dynamite fishing doon at may gumagamit ng cyanide,” shares Bryan Jacinto.

“The problem that the people in Caramoan [are] facing is the same all around the world—everywhere we have coral reefs, the coral reefs are dying and the people are suffering because of it. And so we’re developing education and the technology to restore people’s reefs, but this could be applicable [to] all over the world,” he added.

Biorock Technology, explained.

Upon finding out about the ill-conditioned coral reefs, the couple did research on how to restore dead corals and found out about a technology called Biorock. They spent about a year sourcing and studying before they finally got into the installation.

“Pwedeng sa natural na paraan, hayaan nalang sila [dead corals] and maybe in 20 years, bumalik na ’yong buhay nila, pero ang mga tao hindi pwedeng maghintay ng 20 years. With the help of the Biorock technology, we can rebuild the coral reefs in 5 years so it’s 4 to 7 times faster for the coral growth. That’s why we started the project, para tumulong sa mga tao. Because we saw the future of the people kung magpa-patuloy ang decline ng palaisdaan nila.”

“Biorock uses the process of electrolysis on a submerged steel structure to create a limestone shell around the metal. The limestone material that covers the structure is 3 times stronger than cement, and is made of the same minerals as a coral skeleton. This provides an ideal substrate for corals to attach to and grow on, but it is the electric field produced by the low voltage current that increases the rate of coral growth. Corals can grow 4-7 times faster on Biorock powered reefs, and are more resistant to disease and adverse environmental factors that would cause other corals to die.

“Power for the Biorock reefs comes from solar panels and a battery floating on the surface. The size of the area that can be rehabilitated is only limited by the amount of power that can be produced at the surface and brought down to the submerged steel structures.” – Reefs for Life Facebook page.

They start by conducting interviews in small coastal communities in Caramoan; they’ll meet with barangay captains and members to know their trash situation and to see if there’s a need for  coral reef restoration in the area. If they agree, they will partner with them and start doing community education events like film showings and seminars in different schools in their barangay. They teach kids as young as five years old about how they can keep their coral reefs healthy and the importance of living thoughtfully with the environment. They’ve already approached approximately 15 barangays in Caramoan.

“Education. Just really getting them up to speed on how the environment impacts their life and what they can practically do now to help save it.”

They have different partners and volunteers in the Philippines, particularly in Batangas, and are fully funded by donations sent to the non-profit organization, World Team Inc.,

Commitmment, Connection, and Cooperation

“It’s all connected. If people learn to live sustainably with the environment and then it benefits them, it also benefits the environment. So it’s essential, pwede naming iwasan ang mga tao and just do the forestation, pero kung hindi sila sumasang-ayon sa ginagawa namin at sisirain nila yung programa, hindi din magwo-work, so we have to work with the people and the environment together.”

They are currently monitoring 25 large-size domes for now; 12 are in Tugawe cove, 8 in Sitio Casay just beside Tugawe cove, and then a total of 5 in San Vicente.

“We focus right in Caramoan but we’re building our capacity to extend. We’d like to grow more in Camsur, Albay, and all of the other regions around.”

When asked what propels them to continue doing this: “Really it’s our commitment to God. Diyos ang nagbigay sa bawat isa sa atin ng tungkulin para alagaan ang kalikasan, and so when we’re working to help the environment, we’re really feeling that we’re doing what God wants us to do and everyone who joins with us feels that as well.”

Before meeting the two, I managed to equip myself with some knowledge about coral reefs and some technicalities about the matter for the interview, but our conversation turned rather enlightening and inspiring than just mere exchange of information. More than the need to gather material for my article, I felt their genuine concern and intention to better the livelihood in the area they’ve considered their home for 15 years. It was refreshing to know that there are still people out there who willingly go out of their way to help others, regardless of age, race, and nationality.

Coral reefs and faith in humanity, restored.

 

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Cari Torres

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