C3 Internship Review – Diana Dishman – Philippines 2011
After earning my M.S. in biology I left graduate school having realized that I wouldn’t be satisfied with a career in research unless I could be part of turning the results into tangible management initiatives. I have also believed for some time that international conservation and development efforts have the greatest potential to change human behavior for the good of global biodiversity and species conservation. I went looking for an experience that would expose me to international field research and development, which is when I found C3.
After finding out I would be heading to the Philippines I had a four-week blur of last-minute planning, ticket purchasing, visas, packing, and over 20 hours of flying before I found myself at the field office in Salvacion, Busuanga. Salvacion is a small, quiet town where everyone knows everyone, and is a great way to get to know Filipino people and culture. Culture shock that it was, in the first few days I spent in Salvacion I already felt welcomed by everyone I met. That feeling never subsided during my entire three months I lived there; the community is filled with the warmest and most sincere people I’ve ever met, and I feel lucky that they were so eager to know us.
The first month of my internship was dedicated to developing and planning all of the projects that would become part of the C3 Philippines program. I found out when I arrived that I was the first intern to enter the program, and that meant that for every project planned for the Philippinesprogram, proposals had to be written and methods developed. My first week in Salvacion was spent reviewing the relevant literature about dugongs in thePhilippines, researching endangered species of Palawan, and studying for the health and safety and research tests. Over the course of the weeks that followed I also took part in developing seagrass survey protocols, designed a key informant questionnaire and developed the accompanying training, and started writing lectures to teach members of the local community English and job skills as part of our capacity building efforts.
It was in the second month of my internship that we started making trips out of the office to conduct our first interviews and seagrass surveys. The key informant interviews have been an amazing effort to be a part of. Not only do you get to see what life is like for the average fisherman in these small towns by walking through their neighborhoods and being invited into their homes, but some of them have been fishing in the same waters for over 60 years and have amazing insights into how their seas have changed in that time. I listened to one fisherman recount seeing herds of 20-30 dugongs in these same areas when he was a boy, and several more described witnessing the hunting and slaughter of dugongs, and even the experience of eating dugong meat. It was an amazing opportunity to be able to listen to these people tell their stories, and exciting to hear that people were actually still seeing dugongs in this part of the world.
The seagrass surveys were a fun opportunity to get out and do some fieldwork, and revealed to us first-hand the habitat degradation that happens in such a seemingly pristine place. Siltation and agricultural run-off appear to have left seagrass around here poor habitat for dugongs, and together with the coral rubble from dynamite fishing commonly seen on the reefs we could see the precarious position of marine ecosystems in the Philippines first-hand.
What has been most striking about the local people I’ve met during this experience is the interest they have in what C3 is trying to accomplish. Although I only had the chance to do teaching sessions with a few young people it seemed that among students, fishermen we interviewed, volunteers who helped us, and even the people we casually met in town that the majority of this community cares about what happens to their natural resources. People were happy that we had come to their hometown, proud of the beauty of where they live, and excited that we were interested in helping to preserve it. It was encouraging to learn that people in Salvacion are motivated to take care of their marine environment, and they seem ready and willing to make use of the information and resources C3 has to offer. I had the opportunity to see some of the most beautiful places I will ever see while in thePhilippines, but on leaving the program my most pressing thought is that I wish I had the chance to do more work with this community, and to see the work we started create change in the daily lives of its members.