A Coral Assessment: the Bill Murray-Style Program

As coastal resource management volunteers sometimes one of our major targets is to either update or produce a Coastal Environmental Profile toward develping future management planning or programs.  Especially important in these profiles are socioeconomic data from the fishery sector and biophysical data including corals, seagrass, mangroves, and the fishery.  Almeria hasn’t had an active coastal resource management program in recent years, so after initially forming fisherfolk councils we were left with people’s organizations but no projects or programs. We also didn’t have any budget for our CRM program.

Peace Corps Volunteers are placed in offices and programs all over the spectrum, from fully developed programs with full-time employees dedicated to coastal resource management to essentially non-existent programs with no full time fishery technicians.  Screenshot 2016-06-17 at 1.56.52 PMWe all work within our individual contexts, and while I was feeling that a rumored 2017 Participatory Coastal Resource Assessment (PCRA) was at least something positive, perhaps it was an appropriate time to make our own luck. Like that scene in Space Jam where Bill Murray finally gets in the game is a good example, that dude came to play not to sit on the bench. Almeria was ready to to get in the game too, maybe I just need to provide a little assistance.

At some point I came across a document describing a coral and fish assessment done in July of 2004.  This data, collected with the help of an NGO, was the first and only local data that we had any knowledge of. The resulting document recommended continuous assessments within Almeria to have a more comprehensive study and coastal management plan for the municipality. Of course the continuous assessments never happened, but we decided to take this as a justification for some funding from the regional government so that we might be able to conduct an assessment using the same methodology in the same locations. From this we could compare the status of the reef now with the data from 12 years ago. In the deep caverns of my brain a small light went off and there was an echo that said “Trend Analysis!”.  With support from the local government unit (LGU) we proposed a Manta Tow Assessment with BFAR and requested a small budget. I was hoping just to get basic funding and finally get at least some recent baseline data. Screenshot 2016-06-17 at 4.17.56 PMWe’re not talking Sherlock Holmes complexity, just a reasonable knowledge of the coral reefs so that we can evaluate priority areas, potential areas for marine protected areas, etc.  The Regional BFAR office must have thought it was a good idea because we were granted more than three times the budget we requested, and were even asked to train regional BFAR employees in the methodology. #gotmoremoneythanrequested #thingsthatneverhappen. Gosh I hate hastags.

Manta Tow methodology is a fast way to monitor corals, reef health, fish abundance, and to survey areas after disturbances such as typhoons. It’s faster than line and transect methods, and it allowed us to quickly assess the amount of live coral cover in our eight coastal barangays. Just two days to cover the whole municipality.  The boat tows the observer from a rope while she or he holds onto a slate called a manta board. Over two-minute intervals the observer estimes live hard coral, soft corals, dead corals, algae, silt/sand, coral rubble, and rock.  The observer can also give a relative fish count and add observations such as coral species, fish species, and insights into reef health or abundance of seagrasses. Basically it’s like speed snorkeling, and it’s really fun unless there are massive amounts of stinging jellies on the day you do your assessment.

After two days, seven different sets of eyes had spent time being pulled behind the boats and contributing to the assessments.  Of course there were some setbacks, one of which was initially very problematic. Only one of the boats was motorized, and they were also too small the hold all of the participants. Fortunately, the local dive master and a good friend of mine who was participating in the assessment offered his larger boat if we would just pay for gas, so we were able to use Agta Beach Scuba Resort’s boat for two full days during our assessment. Screenshot 2016-06-21 at 7.29.47 AMSort of a day (assessment) saver, comparable to Han Solo swooping in to save Luke when he was trynig to blowup the death star in a New Hope. Same thing basically.  


Overall it was a success. We got some decent data even though the visibility wasn’t great after a couple of rains, and on the presentations day BFAR was able to lead discussions with barangay captains and fisherfolks about possible projects and programs over the next handful of months.  In fact, BFAR was pleased enough with the results that Almeria will be having its first PCRA in July. Woop woop! While I’m happy with the result, the assessment personally left me mentally drained, physically exhaused, and covered in itchy jelly stings. Screenshot 2016-06-17 at 4.08.43 PM

There was no warning label about the emotional rollercoaster of trying to organize your own assessment. This time around, the moving parts were harder to wrangle than the cows in the movie City Slickers, and I’m no Billy Crystal.



PC: Ariana Nelson


PC: Ariana Nelson


PC: Ariana Nelson


PC: Ariana Nelson




cheers to being dragged behind a boat through jelly fish mine fields so that your municipality has data for its coral reefs,




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