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Wednesday, July 24, 2024

First Gen taps volunteers to monitor reefs

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Clean energy leader First Gen Corp. and non-profit sister organization ABS-CBN Foundation Inc. (AFI) have organized an 18-member team of citizen scientists in Lobo, Batangas, to support of a long-term program to help preserve the marine ecosystem in the Verde Island Passage (VIP).

First Gen and AFI have integrated the citizen scientist approach into the Lobo Reef Monitoring Program, a component of the wider Project Center of Center (Project COC) initiated 20 years ago by First Gen for VIP’s marine ecosystem protection.

First Gen vice president for external affairs and security Ramon J. Araneta said the citizen scientists would act as force multipliers in monitoring and gathering valuable data in reefs near and around Lobo’s marine protected areas. The data will serve as inputs in drawing up effective and regenerative conservation measures and policies for the VIP.

Citizen scientists, in partnership with De La Salle University’s Bro. Alfred Shields Ocean Research Center, helped develop ALWAN, a low-cost, coral reef monitoring method that is simple and easy to learn, ALWAN allows coastal communities to collect timely information on the health of their coral reefs.

Araneta said the citizen science approach empowers community members to be part of scientific expeditions; and with their help, data collection has become more frequent and extensive even without the presence of research professionals.

“The volunteers not only bolster scientific research but also enhance the monitoring and management of the marine protected areas,” he said.

Araneta said the citizen scientists would also help establish restricted or no-access zones in Lobo, which are designated to protect the ecosystem of the town being promoted at the same time as an ecotourism destination by First Gen and AFI.

The citizen scientists would provide valuable data about areas of concern, such as the potential impacts of climate change and local infrastructure development on water quality.  These data enhance Lobo’s Coastal Resource Management Plan and support the town’s development programs.

Under the Lobo Reef Monitoring Program, the citizen scientists will further help in identifying and delineating areas in Lobo suitable for recreational and tourism activities, like scuba diving, snorkeling, kayaking and swimming.

The citizen scientists, who are mainly local residents and Bantay Dagat members, underwent training in reef data collection, species identification and the use of specialized equipment. They also took free-diving lessons and received certifications as part of their training. 

The citizen scientists have already gained the recognition and support of local government units and regulators, as well as some prominent foreign and local groups involved in promoting a sustainable environment.

The United States Agency for International Development (USAID), through a collaboration with AFI, has agreed to support the initiative by providing funds, equipment and training for the citizen scientists.

First Gen initiated Project COC in 2004 or the same year that an extensive study identified the VIP as “the center of the center of marine shore fish biodiversity.” The authors in that same study warned that the marine ecosystem in the passage faced degradation from destructive fishing methods, rapid industrialization and other problems.

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