Conservation Divers Rahul Mehrotra and Spencer Arnold returned to the Philippines in 2017 to continue the research and ecological consultancy work from the initial assessment in 2016.

The small and rural municipality of Toboso has historically been a fishing and agriculture driven community for many decades. Recent years have shown heavy declines in fish stocks. As part of broader national incentives and to assess the coastal ecosystem and fishery health, the local NGO, Worldreef Toboso, has been working with the local government to create an MPA and zonation plan for the area.

Conservation Diver was invited to carry out the local assessment and research to promote the local conservation efforts. The 2016 assessment found that though the coral reefs, mangroves and seagrass habitats appeared healthy and abundant in places, the vast majority of fish diversity and adult fish abundance, was absent. Additionally it was found that the presently proposed MPA failed to protect most of the healthy and diverse reef ecosystems, and instead covered sparse and degraded habitats. The full 2016 report can be downloaded here.

This year,  Conservation Diver Trainers returned to the area to provide scientific evidence for the proposed extended MPA area, while also conducting further assessments of the local fishery. The 2017 Toboso project concluded with more data collection from both the original and the newly proposed MPA locations yielding some fascinating findings. Additionally, deeper EMP transects were carried out throughout the coastline. These deeper surveys showed that what was left of the adult/larger individuals of the key ecological fish species were to be found at the deeper extent of high-abundance coral reefs. Presumably, the challenges to fisherfolk kept these deeper areas as effective refuges.

A greater focus was applied also to the algal diversity at Toboso in the second week. Though the data analysis for the findings is still very much in its early stages, it is believed that this years work is likely to have added a further 100 or so species to the 400 established thus far. Finally, the trip concluded with a meeting with the Mayor and a number of the governing staff of the nearby municipality of Escalante, with potentially exciting developments for a 2018 expedition.

The next several weeks will be spent analysing the mountain of data collected during the expedition to produce a new, updated report to the highly successful report from 2016.