Naomi Penington - Expedition Volunteer - The Philippines

The first time I heard of Coral Cay Conservation was whilst I was searching for a job in the environmental sector in 2010 – I immediately wanted to be a part of their work, and applied for the role of Marketing Intern. Working at CCC Head Office was really enjoyable and a great step in furthering my career, and a bonus was that I got to experience a CCC expedition first hand after completing my internship! So in early March 2012 I set off for Manila, with all my newly-bought dive gear in my bag, curious to see what the project site would actually be like.

 

As a Dive Trainee, I arrived a week before most of the other volunteers, with another ex-Intern from Head Office. Although really excited about learning to dive, I was also incredibly nervous, but the Scuba Instructor made me feel completely at ease. My first time diving on the house reef at Napantao was indescribable – I couldn’t believe the sheer diversity of life under the waves, and felt incredibly lucky that I would be able to dive these waters for the next eight weeks. After passing my Open Water and Advanced Open Water in the first week, I felt like I had been diving for years and loved every minute of it.

 

A week after I got to site the other volunteers arrived, bringing our numbers up to about 20 people on site. When I first arrived I had no idea what to expect, despite having seen photos of the site whilst working at Head Office, but the building CCC occupies is spacious and cool (a must in the tropical climate) and the bedrooms are clean and tidy. I knew that the location was remote, with no running water, but I was pleasantly surprised to find reliable electricity. However, over the weeks I realised that part of the charm is the remoteness – you really get to know the group of people who are on site with you, and forget about the everyday things which take over your life back at home. Also, it means you can really focus on the science, which is the whole purpose of CCC!

Courtesy of Luke Gordon

Once the other volunteers arrived, we could start the SDP (Skills Development Programme). At first learning the names of every creature on our coral reef seemed like an impossible task, but with fantastic teaching from the Science Officer, and help from my fellow students, I got there in the end!

 

Being able to identify things I could see whilst diving made the experience even more worthwhile and I never grew tired of spotting exciting creatures on the reef – nudibranchs, Joey and Squirt the turtles, Boris the huge barracuda, sea hares, ornate ghost pipefish, and even a reef shark.

 

We were all really excited to get stuck into surveying after all the preparation we’d done. The first survey I did was on the other side of the island, at a place called Bahay, which involved a 3 hour round trip on CCC’s boat, Banakun. I learnt early on that long journeys on the boat require sun cream and a hat, as lobster pink with tan lines is not a good look. Over the next few weeks, I got to take part in many more surveys, fulfilling each of the roles of a survey team, for example fish, invertebrates, benthic or coral. The survey sites we visited varied wildly – one day we would see sand with a colony of garden eels, the next would be a wall with myriad varieties of coral. It was extremely satisfying to know the data we were collecting would be used to protect the very environments we enjoyed so much, and from my point of view, having spent time in the office, it was great to see the other side of CCC’s work. The other volunteers out there were enthusiastic and brilliant to survey with – they really are the lifeblood of CCC!

 

Apart from diving and surveying, we found time to do plenty of other things – a weekend trip to the nearby island of Limasawa, to experience their annual Fiesta was great fun, as well as the community work we took part in. One Sunday a group of pupils and teachers from St. Thomas Aquinas College in Sogod visited our base and we ran a number of activities, including snorkelling, an opportunity to try breathing with a regulator and naming the fish on our Napantao species wall. All these activities were created and set up by the staff, especially our Education Officer who had been working on site so long she could speak the local language Visayan! Another time we travelled to the nearby town Lilo-an to help with a coastal clean-up there. We also took part in frequent Crown of Thorns (COTs) extractions – these poisonous starfish eat coral and the area of Sogod Bay is suffering from an epidemic.

 

We had the opportunity to do recreational dives every Wednesday, and on one occasion travelled to Sonok, further south along the coast, to snorkel with whale sharks, the biggest fish in the world. Needless to say, this was an amazing experience – watching as the majestic giants glide beneath you through the water. We also dived the incredible South Wall at Napantao several times – a truly breath taking example of underwater diversity.

 

In short, the eight weeks I spent on CCC’s Philippines site were some of the most fantastic of my life. Leaving site was really difficult, as the people you live with become like family! The reef becomes so familiar to you as you get to know your way around, and it took a few days for it to sink in that I wouldn’t be able to dive twice a day on it.

 

I would say to anyone considering an expedition with CCC, don’t hesitate! You’ll get to experience such a beautiful place, make some amazing friends and help use science to protect reefs for the future – what more could you ask for?