© 2016 Lindsay Cope

Coral Gardening in Sitio Bataha, Barangay Tanagan, Municipality of Calatagan, Province of Batangas April 17-19, 2016

Over the course of three days phase one of the coral gardening project was completed. Sitio Bataha is distant from the main road that runs through Tanagan. The dry summer weather brought us a dusty ride meandering the unpaved terrain to arrive at the coast of Pagaspas Bay.

On the first day of activities, I made my way early to Bataha. Jessie assisted me in transporting the materials for the project to the work site. I had purchased hammers, pliers, zip ties, scrub brushes, crates, wire, and nails that had to be transported along with two nursery unit frames, both three meters long. ENZO Tech, the vocational school in Barangay Gulod, Calatagan, assisted with the construction o the two coral nursery frames, so we made a stop at the campus to collect them. Too large for the van, we hired a Jeepney to transport the nursery frames and made our way by caravan.


Drilling holes and tying the rope lanes.

We were met by the people’s organization, newly named BANCA (Bataha Advocates for Nature and Conservation Alliance), to prepare the materials for the following days. We had two objectives, tie the rope along the frames to create the lanes from which corals will be suspended and cut wire to tie the corals to the rope.


Elmer and Jason cutting wire that is used to tie the corals to the nursery unit.


Didick and Romy making the rope fit through the holes!


Everyone helped prepare the CNUs!

The holes that had been drilled into the frame by the welders at Enzo Tech were too small for the rope that had been purchased, so as some participants were cutting the rope to appropriate length to be tied, others were filing and drilling the holes to accommodate the thicker rope. At the same time, I was joined by two others to cut the wire for tying the coral to the nursery. In a few hours, our tasks were complete and I made my way to Kuya Eddie Boy’s place, escorted by Elmer the Marine Protected Area Patroller. Kuya Eddie Boy is a Bantay Dagat (community coastal law enforcement volunteer) who lives in Bataha, Tanagan. I spent the afternoon enjoying the company of his sisters and their husbands, chatting about America and the Philippines, what it is like to be a volunteer, and what I will do after my service.

In the evening, Kuya Eddie Boy and his wife Rizza returned and we had a delicious dinner of Paksiw, one of my favorite Filipino dishes. After dinner, we made our way next door to videoke before I retired for the night. While we were there, one of the older fisherfolk amused my request to see his antiparras, traditional goggles made with wood and glass sealed with marine epoxy used my fisherfolk in the Philippines. When I left he gave me a pair of his now retired antiparras!

The following day everyone convened at Didick’s house by the beach. About a dozen fisherfolk members of BANCA were there for the training. In the morning I conducted a guided lecture on coastal ecosystems, constructing a conversation with the participants about the roles and importance of mangroves, seagrass, and corals. The following lectures were on coral biology and reproduction and the methods employed in our coral gardening activity. Following the brief lectures everyone had the opportunity to try tying coral fragments to the coral nursery units. This dry run, or land based training, was a chance for everyone to learn what to do before project implementation the next day. Of course, practicing with dead coral fragments on the shore was easy, but everyone got a chance to try tying the wire around the corals and affix them to the roped lanes. We then tried hammering the concrete nails to rocks and tied the fragments to the nails with cable ties, which is phase two: replanting.


Me in my unflattering yellow PC Polo, leading the training modules! 🙂


Project beneficiaries! I promise, they were a lot happier than they looked!


Everyone practiced tying the coral fragments to our nursery frame. Everyone smiled and commented on how easy it is!


Me demonstrating future replanting activities.


Elmer, our MPA Patroller, tightening the wire around the coral fragment.


Practice, practice, practice!


Practicing tying corals to the nails for permanent replanting activity (scheduled for June).


Stakeholder analysis lead by me. We identified relationships that we need to strengthen to achieve the strategic plan for BANCA.



The People’s Organization, BANCA, reorganized its leadership and worked on a strategic plan to improve their effectiveness in coastal protection/conservation


New officers of BANCA, and Christian the LGU Representative in the middle.


Kuya Eddie Boy leading the SWOT analysis.

Following the SWOT analysis, we did a short stakeholder analysis with BANCA to identify opportunities in strategic partnerships for increasing awareness and for funding opportunities for the objectives of their new strategic plan

Finally we got in the water! In the afternoon of day two, after all the lessons and activities, the members of BANCA got in the water to snorkel and choose the nursery site. The coral reef in Tanagan is a great site for snorkeling, at least where we conducted the project the reef is 2-7 meters deep and the water is clear. It is a great place to develop ecotourism with potential for dive tourism; still to be investigated in the coming months.


Romulo, showing off his snorkel, is ready to get in the water!


Romulo and Eddie Boy posing in life jackets with Jessie!


Freediving wearing antiparras and traditional fins, both homemade. He was amazing in the water!

Day two was a wrap after snorkeling and I made my way back to Gulod with Jessie and Caitlin (a friend and volunteer who currently works in Nasugbu). On our way home, we stopped at a fiesta, enjoyed some food and chatted with local leaders of Tanagan. On our way back to Gulod, Jessie’s van started making an unappealing sound and when we arrived at his place, it was clear that she wasn’t going to make the long journey back to Sitio Bataha the following day.

I reassessed my budget to make sure we had enough money to hire a Jeepney. We made the call and the following morning we rode the Jeepney to town to collect lunch for the project participants, rented scuba gears from Stilts Resort, and drove along the dusty dirt road to the beach in Bataha.


In the loaded Jeepney after collecting some dive equipment. With Ella on the left and Caitlin on the right, two volunteers from Ree.ph, a conservation organization in Nasugbu, Batangas.


Planning the implementation of activities.


The plan for day 3!

We pulled up to our eager participants, who helped unload the packed jeepney. I took inventory of our materials and prepared the tools for our activities while Jessie briefed everyone on the plan for the day. He took the local divers out for a quick skills test since it had been a while since they had been diving. At the same time, our participants brought the nurseries out into the water, deep enough for them to be submerged. Caitlin, by dive buddy, and I took a crate out and began collecting corals. Collecting corals went quickly. Caitlin and I filled two crates in 40 minutes. When we arrived at the coral nursery units, one had almost been completely filled! Jessie and the three local divers did the same. We reconvened at the nursery units where everyone was tying the fragments to the frame.


No activity is complete without a group photo. For this one I suggested we all pose like coral!


Group shot before getting in the water! (Jessie not pictured because he is behind the camera, sayang!)

Admittedly, it was a bit chaotic. The wave activity jostled everyone around. I checked in with everyone and they were enjoying the, albeit hard, work. Everyone was smiles and we had some assembly lines going, some people managed breaking corals from large clusters, while others fixed wire around them, another tightened the wire with pliers, and last one person tied the corals to the frame. It was a good system and moved the activity along quickly. Once the nurseries were complete we placed the units in deeper water where they would remain submerged.


Carrying out the nursery units!


Our youngest participant, Christopher, was a rock star tying corals!


Team effort tying corals to the nursery frame


So many corals! Everyone doing a great job. I think I counted five different species in our nurseries!


Close-up of our reef builders! Grow strong, we’ll be transplanting you soon!

This step required two trips. The heavy coral nursery units were tied to the outrigger of the banka (one per trip) and carried out to the sandy area where they will rest. As the banka carried the CNUs, divers and snorkelers stabilized the frame, and then when the frame was untied from the banka, the participants in the water guided it gently to the ocean floor.


I helped out too!

The successful completion of the project was celebrated with “okay” signals, high fives, and smiles all around! Over the few days I spent in Bataha, I really bonded with the fisherfolk group and am happy to continue to work with them on this project.

While collecting corals, I was stung by a brittle star. It was unexpected and pain set on with a quick crescendo. Ultimately I was okay, but even today two days later my fingertip that touched the brittle star still hurts. To say that was the only setback of the project would be a gross understatement. There were some obvious challenges, lack of funding at the start which compelled me to apply for the grant, my counterpart quit the day the funds were distributed, logistics of materials transport, Jessie’s car breaking down, the coral frames being way over budget, and the morning of implementing our activity was a bit more hasty than I would have liked. But despite everything, all the momentary frustrations, everything exceeded my expectations! We had been unable to survey the site before the project, so I was worried about collecting enough coral fragments and about the state of the reef. I had been able to review substrate data from a previous Reef Check survey so I had some idea of what to expect, I knew at least I would have a site at an appropriate depth for the nurseries. The reef was amazing, great coral diversity and many fish, at at a perfect depth for snorkeling. I was concerned that I would fail, that I would let people down, that it would just be a good try. I am proud of the community in Bataha for their enthusiasm and commitment to the project, and proud of myself for persevering despite the challenges that confronted me throughout.

The project is not over! We will still be monitoring the nurseries and replanting in June (i.e. transferring the corals from the nurseries to a rehabilitation site), and monitoring again. Then next year, when I am gone, it will all be done again!

Update: The generous folks at Enrique Zobel Foundation amazingly made up the difference on the Coral Nursery Units. MARAMING MARAMING SALAMAT!




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