We have just completed the underwater surveys in Danajon Bank, with the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) Philippines’ biologists—Angelie Nellas, Myrtle Arias, Hazel Panes, Edwin Dumalagan, along with their local assistants Eduard Alivo, Darwin Bananola, Dexter Savedra and Marcelino Soccobos, and seagrass expert, Dr. Rene Rollon of the Institute of Environmental Science and Management (IESM) of the University of the Philippines, Diliman.
The team wanted to inspect the marine habitats that have been affected by the earthquake in Bohol last October 2013. The surveys could help determine the changes in coral cover and reef fish communities within these habitats.
The surveys which happened from February 27 to March 11 covered eight sites: Matabao, Bilangbilangan, Cabgan, Batasan, and Canlangi in Tubigon, Asinan and Pandao in Buenavista and the Minantaw Marine Park and Sanctuary in Caubian Island, Lapu-Lapu City.
Danajon Bank is a 381.5 kilometer reef system located in northern Bohol, the only double barrier reef in the Philippines and one out of the three in the entire Southeast Asia. It encompasses three provinces—Cebu, Bohol and Leyte, and covers a total area of 271.7 square kilometers.
Since 1995, “Project Seahorse” has been working in Danajon Bank, empowering fishing communities to properly manage their seahorse and other marine resources. It started out as a project between Haribon Foundation and Dr. Amanda Vincent in 1997, when they decided to establish a Cebu-based, not-for-profit organization.
We gathered data on the cover, species, abundance and biomass in the coral reef, seagrass and mangrove communities. There, we also found out that cracks, underwater avalanche, and depression occurred. We measured the changes in the reef area using a handheld navigation device towed on a float.
The Maberes Resort was our base during our surveys in Matabao, Bilangbilangan and Cabgan; Batasan Island during the surveys in their marine protected area (MPA) and Canlangi; Jandayan Island during the surveys in the Asinan MPA and Pandao; and Caubian Island during the surveys in Minantanaw Marine Park and Sanctuary.
In my observations, the western part of Batasan Island, southern part of Matabao, and the Asinan MPA were the hardest areas hit by the October earthquake. Large coral heads of Porites and Lobophyllia were overturned.
We saw seahorses in broad daylight. Seahorse species in this part of the Philippines are cryptic and are characteristically nocturnal, but with most of the corals broken by the earthquake, they have been exposed.
Heading back to Batasan Island, we were told by the residents that an earthquake actually occurred at around 2 p.m. of March 4, just about the same time we were underwater. That was it, we actually heard the sound of the earth shaking underwater.
While we left the tragic state of the reefs in Batasan, Matabao and Asinan, we rejoiced when we arrived in Minantanaw.
The ZSL-Philippines team is currently processing the data and the results of this survey will be shared during a feedback session with the local governments of the sites. It will be used by the municipal agriculturist office to inform management decisions over these marine habitats and resources.