A site dedicated to scuba diving off Mactan Island, Philippines

Biological Happenings Around SMS by Chris Greising

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Photo by Paul Cowell

Marine environments all over the world are being negatively affected by human actions.  Corals are bleaching at alarming rates, shark and other fish populations are reaching dangerously low and unsustainable levels, and vast areas of our oceans resemble a landfill from all the plastics and other debris floating around.

Here on Mactan Island we have felt the effects of these environmental issues but Scotty’s, in cooperation with the Shangri-La Resort, is working to restore our Shangri-La Marine Sanctuary (SMS) to its former pristine glory.

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Photo by Paul Cowell

Spearheading this initiative is the Shangri-La resident marine biologist Irene Grace Tan.  Irene will have been working at the Shangri-La one year this March.  Since she started at the Shangri-La Irene has begun implementing new projects whose effects can already be seen.  It seems like every time I dive there, which is almost every day, the number and variety of fish and other marine creatures seems to grow and it is Irene’s intention to keep that trend going.

One of Irene’s first projects was to improve the corals in SMS.  “We cannot avoid guests stepping on the corals,” Irene said, “so we take them from the shallows and transplant them to the deeper areas.”  She explained that once taken from the shallows the damaged corals are placed on an elevated platform for two to three months.  On this PVC platform the corals are allowed to heal themselves before being transported and planted onto the reef or, on another of her projects, a fish house.

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Photo by Paul Cowell

These fish houses are another means of attracting new marine life, including squids and octopus, to the sanctuary.  Irene was “try[ing] to find something more natural than ships or other objects,” and decided on the limestone and cement structures that will one day blend in seamlessly with the rest of the reef structure.  The fish houses simulate rock piles and give the marine creatures plenty of hiding spots they love to call home.

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Photo by Paul Cowell

While these two projects are ongoing, there are a few others that our marine biologist plans to implement in the near future.

The first will be to rehabilitate the sea grass beds present in SMS.  Right now Irene estimates that they cover about 10 percent of the sanctuary but she wants to bump that number up at least another 10 percent.  “[Sea grass] is a big producer for the marine environment,” Irene said, “It provides food and shelter for clams, fish, sponges and sea horses.”

She explained that there are two ways she plans to increase the sea grass numbers.  One is to replant sea grasses that wash up on shore and the second is to save sea grasses from other locations that will most likely be destroyed by humans and transplant them in SMS.

ImagePhoto by Paul Cowell

Another future project is tied directly into the sea grass project.  Irene plans to reintroduce sea horses into SMS once the sea grass numbers, a sea horse’s natural environment, increase.

“Sea horses are really amazing creatures, so many people are fascinated by them,” Irene said, “but it’s very easy to capture them.”  This is one of reasons sea horse populations have declined globally she explained.  They are favorites for both aquarists and, like such things as rhino and elephant horn and shark fin, a favorite ingredient in Chinese “medicine.” And the sea horse’s docile nature makes them easy prey for collectors. The other reason for the decline in their population, like so many other marine creatures, is that their natural environment continues to be destroyed by human irresponsibility.  She hopes to begin this project within the year.

As she hopes all these project will help SMS continue to grow and flourish, Irene says that the first step is to educate the guests, especially the kids, and even those employed by Shangri La.  Irene will personally take adult guests out for a snorkel safari and the kids out for a tour of the sanctuary.

Irene said, “we have to make people aware that each action of an individual can affect a marine environment… it’s our job to take care of it, we need to share the responsibility.”

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