Set off from Bangor to Bangkok. We are a team from the school of ocean sciences, University of Wales, Bangor, joining a European Union project to study seagrass meadows and mangroves in the Philippines and Vietnam. During the next 30 days, we will compare pristine and disturbed sites. The ultimate goal is to help coastal managers and policy-makers maintain these ecosystems under the increasing pressure of fish farming, urbanisation, tree felling and tourism.
Arrive in the late afternoon in Manila. Temperature has jumped from 4 degrees C in Bangor to 35 degrees C.
Depart for Bolinao in the north of the country. Arrive at the marine institute and tumble into three bamboo outrigged fishing boats to inspect investigation sites. Spend the afternoon snorkelling and marvelling at our first seagrass meadows.
Back to the most pristine seagrass meadow in the area, where we start to survey and collect plants and animals. The water is only two metres deep and the metre-long emerald leaves of the seagrass waft gently with the currents. Exotic seaweeds grow between the seagrass plants and starfish the size of dinner plates, snails and sea cucumbers graze on the sediments and microscopic plants covering the seagrass.
A day at a less pristine meadow. On the boat to the site we pass fish corrals and pens - rickety structures built from bamboo and nets, each the size of a bowling green. Most contain thousands of milk fish, looked after by caretakers, who live in equally rickety sheds built onto the sides of the pens. Everyone we pass is collecting fish, some from proper outrigged boats, others from simple bamboo rafts.
A chance to visit a site deep inside the fish pen area. The once-flourishing seagrass bed has been hit by intensive fish rearing. Extra nutrients added to the water stimulate phytoplankton (microscopic plants) growth, which increases turbidity and reduces light reaching the seagrass. The sea floor is covered in a thick, silty ooze, easily disturbed when finning over the surface. Clouds of the gunk reduce visibility to zero and make sample collection difficult.
Our last day in Bolinao. I return to the fish pen site to collect milk fish. A caretaker invites us to join him on one of the bamboo structures while he catches fish. He moves effortlessly when we hang on for dear life. At midnight we set off for Manila and the next phase of the Philippine experience.
David Thomas School of Ocean Studies, University of Wales, Bangor.