Editor's note: This is part 3 in a series of dispatches from the Philippines.
Ayoke Island may be the most idyllic place I’ve ever seen. It’s a small island in the northern part of Lanuza Bay covered with a riot of coconut and palm trees.
The town is a small cluster of bamboo and thatch homes. I was lucky enough to get to snorkel in the aqua waters of the Ayoke Island MPA with Lito, a Rare staffer, while fishers held a community meeting in the guardhouse. Unlike the waters of Cortes, which contain mostly an undulating seagrass meadow, Ayoke is home to a stunning reef with ten-foot table corals and seemingly endless clusters of branch corals.
But even in this paradise, there are signs of trouble. We saw very few fish, although I did spot one fat sea cucumber resting on a table coral. I didn’t see any giant clams, although Lito said he saw a dead one. Broken patches of branch corals littering the ground were evidence of dynamite fishing.
Even so, Ayoke Island’s MPA was named one of the Philippines’ top 10 marine protected areas, no small feat in a country with 1,600 MPAs, the most in the world. But as recently as December the community faced a real test when the MPA was dynamited during the town’s fiesta, when no one was volunteering at the guardhouse. No one knew about the bombing until a family that was new to town showed up at the market with several boxes of fish that everyone immediately recognized as the result of dynamite fishing. As fishers told Cherry Ravelo, Rare’s conservation fellow for Ayoke and nearby General Island, they felt like they had been robbed.
I had the good fortune to spend quite a bit of time in and around the ocean and sea during the last few months of my hiatus from “Private Practice,” both for work and for pleasure.
My love for the oceans is obvious, to be sure, but nothing reinvigorates my commitment to keeping our oceans clean, sustainable and beautiful more than swimming, snorkeling, sailing and swimming in them.
The waters off the coast of Anguilla and the Bahamas are so clean, clear and warm and I got to see so much ocean life, from a vast array of colorful fish to the lush and intact coral reefs. I also love to visit the azure waters of the Aegean Sea that surrounds the islands of Mykonos and Santorini.
Last month, I placed a banner on my website encouraging my fans to “Be an Ocean Hero” this summer (I pledged to clean my local beach.) So I was a little surprised (and very humbled and flattered) when some of these people – The Walshies as they’re affectionately known – wrote me to relate how my involvement with Oceana inspired them to become advocates too.
With that in mind, I’d like to share with you a few inspirational notes from The Walshies that reveal the capacity for the oceans to inspire and the power each of us holds to encourage our friends, family (or even fans) to get active in their protection:
Nicole (Miami, FL): After hearing about Oceana's Be an Ocean Hero pledge, now I too look beyond to what lies ahead, not only the superficial aspect of our waterways. Thanks Kate and thanks Oceana!
Your daily expedition update from Oceana senior campaign communications manager Dustin Cranor:
The Oceana crew set off for their first dive operation at the Western Dry Rocks off the coast of Key West yesterday morning.
The diving conditions at this first location were far from ideal. Recent storms stirred up the water with sand and mud, leaving the divers with limited visibility of only three to nine feet. Support diver Soledad Esnaola described it as “like diving in milk.” The site was approximately 50 feet deep and a majority of the coral was covered in sediment. Despite the poor conditions, underwater videographer Enrique Talledo spotted a six-foot green moray eel.
The second dive took place at the Western Sambo Reef, which offered much better visibility of approximately 25 feet. After diving in many different environments all around the world, Oceana’s divers found the reefs to be mostly dead or dying, with little biodiversity, very few fish and no invertebrate life. It was far from what they expected to see on a Caribbean reef. They did catch sight of a 10-inch yellow stingray, a three-foot wide brain coral boulder, grey angel fish, yellowtail snapper, small sea fans and wrasse, small cigar shaped fish.