Citizen scientists mobilized to protect Verde Island Passage

Iris Gonzales - The Philippine Star
Citizen scientists mobilized to protect Verde Island Passage
A citizen scientist uses an underwater camera attached to a folding monopod to document the conditions of corals in a marine protected area in Lobo, Batangas.
STAR / File

MANILA, Philippines — The Verde Island Passage (VIP), one of the country’s marine treasures, has received invaluable help from the Lopez Group, which organized an 18-member team of citizen scientists.

Clean energy leader First Gen Corp. and nonprofit sister organization ABS-CBN Foundation Inc. (AFI) partnered to mobilize the time in Lobo, Batangas as an additional initiative in support of a long-term program, co-pioneered by both Lopez-led organizations, to help preserve the marine ecosystem in the 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 or the so-called Project COC initiated 20 years ago by First Gen for VIP’s marine ecosystem protection, First Gen said in a statement.

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

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

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, Araneta also said.

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

Furthermore, according to the First Gen official, the citizen scientists also help establish in Lobo restricted or no-access zones, 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.

“Under the Lobo Reef Monitoring Program, the citizen scientists 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 freediving lessons and received freediving 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.

For instance, 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. Release of funds for the initiative has started and will continue until next year under USAID’s INSPIRE – Investing in Sustainability and Partnerships for Inclusive Growth and Regenerative Ecosystems – Project,” First Gen said.

Last month, First Gen and AFI reaffirmed their commitment to serve as VIP stewards by finalizing a memorandum of understanding with the Department of Environment and Natural Resources and the Department of Energy.

Both Lopez-led entities agreed, among other things, to harmonize efforts for the VIP’s protection with the country’s clean energy transition program.

First Gen owns and operates low-carbon natural gas-fired power plants with 2,017 megawatts in total capacity in Batangas City. It also owns and operates geothermal, hydro, wind and solar power plants with an additional capacity of 1,651.2 MW, making it the country’s largest renewable energy provider.

AFI, meanwhile, has been promoting a science-based conservation of the VIP.

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