About 3 weeks ago, AirAsia¡¦s People Engagement department sent out an email to Allstars to join the Reef Conservation Training in Batangas , Philippines. Only 6 from all AOCs will be selected based on certain criteria. Like other divers, who would want to miss the opportunity, right? So I sent in my application , and 2 weeks later, hey ! I was selected together with one from Philippines, one from Thailand, 2 from Indonesia and another from Malaysia.
Due to bad weather, the trip was postponed a week later and due to our busy work schedule, we didn’t even manage to say hello to each other by email before the trip! Not knowing who the other 5 were, all of us (except for the Philippine’s representative) boarded flight PQ 7456 to Clark and during the 4 hours trip, I managed to locate them , introduced ourselves to each other and upon arrival, we were greeted warmly by the Allstars in Clark They waited for us to arrive at around 12.30 midnight. A true spirit of Allstars
After traveling by land for another 5 hours, alas we arrived at the destination in Matoud , Batangas, the beautiful beach resident of Ms Maan Hontiveros, CEO of AirAsia Philippines, who actively plays a very important role in Reef Check Organisation of Philippines. She was there to welcome us and gave us a short speech on how important this training is and we were also informed that we are the 1st multinational Reef Check team formed. We will be called AirAsia ASEAN Reef Check team once we completed the whole course !
Our trainer was the well known Carina Escuador, who is famous for underwater cinematography and photography. She was involved in producing “Feeding the Giants: The Tuki Chronicles” . She was joined by Reef Check Philippines Executive Director Jappy Lim. We were so excited of course! Couldn’t wait for it to start.
During introduction, we found out among the 6 of us, 2 are dive masters, 2 advance divers and 2 open water divers. We all love diving and we have all heard about Eco diver or Reef Check course, but none of us have done it before and not sure what was it all about.
As Carina explained and taken from the Reef Check Organisation Facebook page, “Reef Check goals are to educate the public about the value of reef ecosystems and the current crisis affecting marine life as well as to create a global network of trained volunteer diving teams who regularly monitor and report on reef status in support of science-based conservation.”
Ok…that sounds very long and complicated. In a simpler explanation, it is about training a diver who volunteers to help do surveys on reefs, to protect remaining reefs and rehabilitate damaged reefs worldwide. Simple right? Let the course begin!
Right after the welcome speech, introduction and guide about the place we were staying, lunch was served. And within the next 1 hour, we were ready in our swim/ dive attire to start our training on day 1.
Day 1 : Buoyancy and skills tune-up.
Carina explained the importance of getting the data right while doing the survey. Since doing this survey involves a lot of focus on the corals and its surrounding which can be either at 5 or 8 metres deep, as a start, we were given the tips and guides on the do’s and don’ts . This is to ensure while doing the survey, we do not damage other corals and we do not miss any areas .
Our first dive was an exercise and ‘test’ on our buoyancy and skills.
It was only a short 45- 50 mins dive at 5metres deep, but with all the underwater activities and tests, and moreover we just arrived after a 5 hours journey, it was very tiring.
After the dive, we had dinner and continued with the class until 9.30pm. We retire for the night at 10.30pm.
Day 2 : Substrate
Breakfast was at 7am and right after that the class started. None of us knew what was ‘substrate’. Substrate survey is a survey to check on the soft corals, hard corals, rock, rubble, silt, sand , NIA (Nutrient Indicator Agent) and others. We needed to learn and familiarized ourselves with all these types and there are also hand signals to notify our buddy on it!
We were also taught on how to use the slate to record our findings every 5 metre for a length of 100metres. After learning the theory, it was time for practical. Off we went to the sea and for a start the first 30 mnts was spent snorkeling and Carina showed us the ‘real stuffs’. It is amazing to see all the beautiful corals and be able to identify each of them! We were thrilled!
The next 1 hour was spent diving with our buddies, and jotted down on our slate what we have identified. This was all done at the 5 metre depth, for a 100metres transect as this is the basic requirement for doing a survey.
Upon completion of the dive, we came up to shore, rinsed the equipment and ourselves, and continued with the class. We also had our first exam. Yes. There was examination for each subject. This was our test – to ensure we could identify each one that we have learnt!
Class was continued after dinner. By the time the class ended at 9.30pm, we could not open our eyes anymore.
Day 3 : Substrate practical exam, fish and inverts.
The usual routine , breakfast at 7am, by 8am we were in the classroom. We started off with a briefing on our practical exam. Yes, this morning, we had to do the practical substrate exam for a 100m transect. The 100m transect has been marked every 5 meters, and we needed to check it right on the mark all the way until we complete the 100m!
We knew this was tough as we need to be precise on every 5 meter mark. It is very different from the usual leisure dives that we have always done. We completed it around 50 mins. We came back to the classroom, exchanged our answer sheets and marked the papers. Some of us failed and re- sitting for the exam will take place on day 4.
We later learned about the fish and inverts. We needed to know and identify the types of fish. It wasn’t easy. They might look the same but they obviously are different! While fish was tough, inverts are interesting creatures. Some of the inverts that we need to look for are sea urchins, pencil urchins, sea cucumber that includes pinkfish, coral band shrimp, drupella snails and others.
And after the theory was the exam for each subjects. Well, some of us failed and I failed the fish exam ƒ¼
It’s the practical day ! We are required to practice on what we have learnt. To ensure that we will do the right thing underwater, we had to do a land drill. Once everything went smoothly, we headed to the boat to load up our gears, and headed out to the sea!
We spent nearly one hour plus underwater, from setting up the 100metres transect line, to completing all the surveys with our partners / buddies. There were limited number of fish but the corals were beautiful. By now, it makes us wonder and curious about the corals in other countries!
Some of us (including me) who failed some of the papers had to re-sit it in the afternoon. How we wished we had passed on the first sitting as it was really tough sitting for re-sits when we are already tired. In the end, all of us passed
Yeayy!! The actual survey day!
We are now ready to do an actual survey at a site named ‘San Diego’.The data we collected today will be submitted to the Reef Check Organisation Headquarters in San Francisco. We were divided into 2 teams of 5 divers. Each team consists of a team leader, a scientist who will do a survey on the substrate, 2 to do the fish survey and 2 will do the inverts and impact survey. One team does the shallow depth at 5 metre and the other will do at 8 metre.
We came back to the mainland after about 2 hours, completed the 100m survey, submitted the data and and that’s the end of the whole course! We later had our graduation ceremony in the evening , on the beautiful beach accompanied by sunset.
A beautiful ending to a tough week
Looking back at all the pictures, from day one until we graduated, all of us agreed it was very tough. We didn’t expect it at all and we were not ready. Usually when we go on a dive trip , we could dive 3-4 dives a day and still feel alright at the end of the day. But this time, with only one dive a day at a maximum of 6 to 8 meters deep, we were very exhausted. None of us said “we want more dives!” after we completed that one dive daily! We even had to motivate each other continuously everyday
But the amazing thing is at the end of day 5, after completion of the actual survey, we felt really good. We now know about the substrate, the fish, the inverts and the type of impact and we have done our part in contributing to the society.
Now, the 6 of us are not only diving for leisure, but we also dive with a cause. We would like to thank Ms. Maan Hontiveros , CEO Philippines AirAsia for believing in us and supporting this project.
Moving forward, our aim now is to work together with Reef Check Organisation which includes Malaysia, Philippines, Thailand and Indonesia, to continuously dive to do surveys, covering all ASEAN countries.
We are proud to be AirAsia Allstars ASEAN Reef Check team and hope AirAsia is always active in conducting CSR projects and we hope to be able to continuously support this project
We look forward to our next reef check dive!