Monday, February 9, 2009

Ep Jan28: The Giant Fish - part 2

(pic1: my closest 'whaleshark' encounter - playing w/ the mascot in WWF Donsol office).

Once again, we visited Butandings in Donsol, and luckily had very fulfilling encounters with our giant friends (4 encounters for me, 7-8m in size). Other than checking our the result of our photo ID activity last year - we learned that our boat community have started deploying 'propeller guard' - installed underneath their boats. This should protect both the shark and the boat for some nasty blade-vs-butanding encounter. Although blades will not immediately kill the whaleshark (when hit by it), the consequential wound can cause infection and eventual death; Or at least harm the fish and shoo them away out of Donsol. Not very good for eco-tourism.

On another aspect - WWF has started studying the planktons (the main staple for Butandings), as they continue to build knowledge on how to better protect these magnificent creatures of Donsol.

(pic2: Romi inspecting a freshly-caught Devil Ray - Manta group. This is illegal and surprisingly - Pamillacan community in Bohol continue to harvest/poach this species.)
Visiting Donsol gave me mixed feelings - given the irony of the so-called 'awareness' of the local community. Whalesharks are protected by law, and it was good that Donsol is very active in the conservation effort. But just last year, hundreds of dogsharks and tresher sharks were being lifted out of the sea for liver and sharks' fin trade.
Protection of sharks should not just include the big ones - but all species that are obviously already threatened.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

EP Jan14 - Wild Down Under

Similar to my Alaskan escapade, I have a 2-prong objective in my OZ trip: climb its highest mountain, and mingle with the 'locals' hehe.
What's an Aussie trip without a glimpse of a Koala or a Kangaroo?! And so, driven by desire to get close and personal with the 'natives', I did a quick wildlife tour and capture images of these magnificent animals. Bonus to that, there was a Dugong in Sydney Aquarium (sorry - not in the wild), but since it was my first time to see them - medyo awesome pa rin ang experience for me!
On the wild side - the 'roos are fine and healthy population, but sadly - on the way to Snowy Mountains, I caught several glimpses of road kills. :( In Oz, road kills are not your regular pusa at aso, but wombats, 'roos and other small mammals. Sad, but that's life in the outback.
Of course, my main objective is to climb my 6th peak of the (Bass List) 7 summits :) - and although i'm expecting an easy climb - I still experience something new and different. Like being bombarded (note - not gusty) with 60-80kph winds! And oh, i saw several kids (even toddlers) summitting the highest mountain in Oz - Mt. Kosciousko!
Great food, unique mountain outback, pleasant animal encounters, an easy climb and a nice Sydney weather - made my Christmas vacation somewhat relaxing and unique. ;)

Sunday, December 7, 2008

EP Dec10 - Surfing

Surfing?! It didn't sound like an appropriate topic for Born but we went anyway and hoped for a nice story to come. :)

To be honest, i don't like waves, especially big waves. I tried boarding (aka 'surfing') since 2000 in Daet Bicol and realized that it's not a sport for me. I just couldn't get my balance.

But this weekend was a different one. ;) Armed with a renewed motivation (i.e.,finishing the last few shoots for Born hehehe), a good guide, and a nice, stable long board - I went for the surf!
Surprisingly, w/ a little push from the guide, and a perfect timing on when to paddle - it was relatively 'easy' to stand up and ride the wave. I failed the 1st time, fell from standing to sitting, then stood up the 2nd time for a few seconds before crashing water. But 3rd and so on was just simply great. No, i was not 'stoked', but i relived that feeling of riding the bicycle for the first time - "discovering the balance".

Now, trying to connect that w/ nature or conservation or any 'Born stuff' for that matter :) , Surf spots like La Union may not have great reefs for scuba diving tourism, but the lure of the waves for adrenalin sportsmen definitely helps in the economic boom of the locality. 'Green Zinc' foundation even partnered with the local surf club to ensure that the beach are tidy and presentable so as to maintain 'tour-friendly' atmosphere of the place.

Imagine - a fearsome force of nature, and eco-tourism - go hand in hand. :)

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

EP Oct22: Spiders!!

When I was a teenage kid, I used to play around our backyard (w/c is like a mini-forest, having a Mom who likes greeneries - too much greeneries). My favorite “Nat Geo” adventure back then was to observe huge colonies of carpenter ants inhabiting our Guyabano tress. This was when I first learned about ant roles and hierarchies, and their keen interest w/ aphids (white insect-animal that they “herd” as we do w/ our cows).

In one of this observation routine, I chanced upon a big spider, sitting – rather sleeping, in its huge, intricately-designed web trap. And I thought – what does it eat?! It’s boring to watch a sleeping spider, unlike the army of ants who constantly gather food for their colony. I’ve learned from somewhere that spiders are predators. Being a curious little smart guy, I wondered who is more superior, the spider – or these soldier ants who try to prick my skin. And so I introduced a mini UFC for these fighters.
I perfected the procedure on how to capture and throw ants in the web. Was that bad? I don’t know – I was a kid then hehe.
Things get more excited when the spider ‘attacks’ the trapped ant and spin a web around it (more like wrapping cellophane around your big luggage). Sometimes the ant will try to fight back, but the sticky web prevents it from moving properly. A few minutes would tick by, before the spider start slurping its meal. Ewe!
My afternoon Nat Geo adventure abruptly ended, when I finally decided to throw an ipis (cockroach) maybe 8-10x the size of the spider, into the web trap. The Ipis struggled so violently, tearing some support webs in the process. The spider decided to have a run for its life. Ay nako! The web held though and I believe (and I did not want to confirm by seeing), that the spider was into a big buffet that dinner.

Around 20 years after that kiddy adventure, I was about to do a similar thing for Born. Look for spiders, and watch them eat! The picture above is a big non-trapper spider, capable of eating a dragon fly - the size of its own. Umm, the pix is kind’a blurred, well it’s not my camera so don’t blame me!

Spider is another nature’s wonder. It evolved little, its root from Horseshoe crab (w/c by the way, is still a living fossil). Spiders are arachnids, and not insects. They’re cousins of garapata and kuto (ticks). I’ve seen videos of big tarantulas killing and eating a snake, a mouse, a scorpion, and other odd-food-for-spiders. They have ‘fangs’ like snakes, they don’t chew, and just suck their preys bone dry. Some species could be more venomous than snakes. If they grow as big as a carabao – they could be a dominant predator species, maybe even attacking humans for food! Ano yan – Lord of the Rings?! Thank God they don’t grow as big. But yes – it is truly an amazing animal.
Their big role in the ecosystem is to regulate insect population. Sadly for them, their population is likewise controlled by bats, birds and other small animals feeding on them.

Are they endangered? Most are not, but some species of tarantula are threatened due to excessive pet trade. Should we be scared of them? Only a few species are venomous – so for their sake (and yours), just shoo them away (you’re not food for them). And who knows – they might be eating a mosquito-meal that could have given you a Dengue or Malaria disease.. di ba?! :0

Did you know that the best technologies are those that are based on natural design? This new trend that promotes nature-based technologies should be able to solve some crisis that we have today regarding environmental impact of some technologies, or non-efficient technologies due to 'wrong science' (ex. nuclear power may not be the right energy-source given various issues around it).
One of science's inspiration to do, what we call Biomimicry - is the wonder of spider's silk web. We thought that we're good in building new technologies such as Kevlar, Combustion engines, pollutant chemicals, etc. We now know that the best technologies, are those that are derived from nature itself. Read below :)
Spider silk is more stable than Kevlar and many times more stable than steel. Its tensile strength, low weight and elasticity make the material resistant. The combination of these characteristics affords high stability. Spider silk has a load carrying capacity of two tons per square inch and is only a third the weight of Kevlar. The structure of the silk has areas that are hard, which lend stability, and softer areas that provide elasticity. The diameter of spider silk is only a fraction that of a human hair. The surface appears to be completely smooth, but if one removes the outermost layer, one can see a complex structure of very tiny fibers winding like a spiral around a central strand. Fibers consist of a network of long protein molecules, which are stabilized by crystal inlays. Not only the sequence of the amino acids is important, but also the spatial arrangement of the protein chains.

For quite some time it has been possible to produce synthetic spider silk. Through Biomimicry/bioengineering a material can be produced that is very close to natural spider silk, and in the future this synthetic may indeed be superior to the natural material. As one is dealing here with biomaterial, specifications as to physical characteristics can only be approximated. Nonetheless, it is believed that a rope of spider silk the thickness of a finger should be able to stop a Boeing 747.
galing di bah?!

Thursday, October 16, 2008


Time really does fly. Around this time last year, we were just beginning to get organized for the show. And now, the clock ticked and tocked and we’re very close in completing a full year – hear that?! Mag-iisang taon na ang Born!! Ang bilisss ng panahon!

Over the year, I’ve learned and experienced a lot of things. Some encounters were great elements in my diary, some umm were not-so-pleasant hehe, but overall – a general feel-good thing.
Let me share some behind-the-scene tidbits, general insights, himutok, learnings, etc;

- Producing a Nat-Geo quality wildlife show, requires TIME and MONEY. These are the 2 elements that we don’t have. Discovery Channel and National Geographic have the best equipment and gears, and take them months to several years to complete a shoot. In our case -I have a regular full-week (Mon-Fri) job, and I can only shoot over the weekend – my precious weekends! Places are nice to visit, but my schedule is tight and hectic. It has become tiring since I have to work almost 7 days a week. Thus, I don’t expect a super gratifying out-of-town trips. Snifh, Snifh.

- Shooting wildlife is VERY CHALLENGING. Especially mammals! If we can only schedule the shoot with them, madali sana . Asa pa! Finding information about a specific geography, specific species, and finding various elements to shoot – is a very challenging job for our researchers and producers. Oftentimes, this becomes the source of our frustrations and little aways. Sometimes, we go to a site, hoping that we’ll be able to find and shoot something. We were not always that lucky! :(

- I realize that I know a lot more about marine life, than terrestrial. And that shooting marine life is actually simpler or easier. Pag dive kase, they’re just there. Animals are just around somewhere, they’re not as scared compared to their land counterparts.
- Even if I’m a Dive Pro, I’m still more of a mountain person than a sea farer. But Born made me realize that wildlife encounter is easier underwater, than in the mountains or jungles. Perhaps that simply means that our jungles and mountains are already terribly screwed!

- I signed up for this kahihiyan ;) w/ an advocacy as the end in mind. I realize that viewers are interested in a wildlife show – and its entertainment value, maybe a bit of new knowledge, but most are still apathetic about conservation issues. Sometimes I wonder if we were actually able to impart moral or conservation values at all. =(
- I seemed to believe more (thru this Born experience), that our wildlife, our environment, and the world we live in – is continually degrading, and that we are running out of time to save it. It may not seem like it, but if you dig deeper, if you see the bigger picture and connect and analyze its various critical components, and if you’re more involved – you will realize that our biosphere, our planet- is fast-becoming a dooms-land. This TV show, is just a silent whisper in exhibiting this scenario; a rather, small voice that may have failed to reach a listening ear. Sus, ang drama! ;)

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

EP Oct15: The ocean cleaners

(photo courtesy of Martyn, fr Flickr)

Before taking off for Bauan Batangas, I got a text message about our shoot: a very boring dive clean-up (again!), and a natural water cleaner creature– the sea sponges. Now anyone who is fond of a more animated animal show would conclude that our shoot and resulting TV episode would be outright boring. ;)

And so riding my van on the way to the site, I was desperately looking for an alternative story. I’m fed up w/ garbage and clean-ups (I’ve done like 8 or 9 episodes with that!).
Why not - a story of cleaning animals!

And so it began, the search for the not-so-elusive sea creatures, responsible for maintaining a good, healthy and clean marine environment.

- Sea Sponges / sea squirts. These are filter feeders, sucking in water and ‘eating’ organic particles in the process. By that process, they actually clean the water of those particles that could promote too much bacteria, or simply ‘pollute’ the waters w/ particles. Very easy to see or to video these animals as they simply attached themselves to the reef (permanently, unlike the feather stars), but the only movement you can see is the constant whoosh-in and whoosh-out of their suction valves. Sea turtles feed on sponges, jellyfish, and other toxic food, so the latters' number are regulated by our friendly predators.

- Clams / Giant Clams. These too are filter feeders. These are normally poached and eaten for their meat (mostly as Korean sashimi), and their shells used for ornament or house fixtures (bathroom sinks, etc). Their number dwindled so fast that they became threatened; fortunately – a group launched a seeding program to increase their number, in Bolinao (the source) and in Batangas (and some other parts in the Phils).
- Shrimp and Crabs. Not just good for eating, they too play a role in cleaning the ocean floor. Cleaner shrimp clean their hosts (corals, other animals) by eating particle debris attached to their hosts. More like the shrimp in Nemo movie. Crabs are generally bottom dwellers, so they clean up the floor, more like an underwater ipis. hehe ;)

- Echinoderms. Urchins and other bottom-dwellers like the sea star/cucumber also play their janitorial roles. ;)

- Grazing fishes such as parrot fish and other herbivores maintain and regulate algae growth. Too much algae kills corals, and promotes growth of bacteria. Too much organic substance and bacteria in the water (lake or sea) can deplete the dissolved O2 which then kills fish. I saw a bad algae bloom in one area in my dive-shoot, a sign of an imbalance in the ecosystem. Maybe the fishes prefer diver-provided feeds/breads and do not like to eat algae anymore? Hahaha I’m exaggerating.

I thought my trip to a small cavern to ‘experience’ a first-class hand/nail clean-over by our friendly platoon of cleaner shrimps - is going to be my trip highlight. Nakakakiliti ung shrimps as they nibble the dirt in your skin.

I got lucky to spot a few ‘cleaning station’ and see our friendly cleaner wrasse busying their day, snacking on the little tidbits attached to their fish ‘clients’. It’s a symbiotic relationship wherein the cleaner wrasse (the picture above) gets food by eating organic particles attached to the other animals (be it fish, moray eel, even sharks), and in return the client gets a free wash-over. The “cleaning station’ are sort of designated area where the wrasses advertise their services around, and fish actually visit the place. I was amazed to see a school of big damsels visiting the place, taking turns w/ the wrasses. Of course, there is an assumed agreement that no fish client should eat their cleaner wrasse. That’s bad for the business. Hehehe..

While watching these creatures do their daily task, I can’t help but be amazed by yet, another of our nature’s remarkable ‘arrangement’ in maintaining our eco-system.

The little contribution we can offer? To hell w/ the aquariums, leave the wrasses and other colorful fishes in their natural home. Nobody wants to be caged in a small room, right?

EP Oct1: The living fossils - crionoids!

(photo courtesy of Ze Eduardo, from Flickr)

I was having a hair cut in Makati, browsing this Nat Geo magazine, and got mesmerized by fabulous pictures of Feather Star Crionoids.

This is one of the many see-but-ignore species in the coral reef, and up until our dive-shoot, I didn't really give it much attention.

And so inspired by the NatGeo magazine - I pitched the story for Born (to be Wild), not just the feather star (that will not suffice for 1 Episode), so we'll tackle its clan instead - ECHINODERMS.

Echinoderm family includes:
-sea cucumber (a big fat 'worm' looking thing, growing several inches to several feet long, favorite chinese ingredient for pancit/ etc. Some areas experience over-harvesting.

-sea urchin. Everybody seems to know this one :) for who wants to be pricked by its toxic needles? I was demonstrating how it is properly handled (underwater), but after several demo, i got careless and got stinged by one, arggh! Well, i'm used to marine toxins - i'll live! Its role is to eat algae (too much algae destroys corals, and promotes bacterial growth w/c consumes dissolved O2 - w/c kills fish hehe haba!). Some areas also experience over-harvesting - favorite japanese sashimi called 'Uni'. YUCK!! even w/ 2-3 gulps of beer, i still don't find the taste agreeable.

-sea star. (normally called 'starfish', hey it's not a fish). I was amazed that super-tiny crustaceans actually live somewhere on the sea star's skin. We got one on video :) Since they don't move as fast, they're easy targets for deco collectors. Pricks! Leave the animal where they belong, and let them clean our sea floor ;)

-brittle star. We normally see this at night, it's weird to feel its thorny 'tentacles'. They crawl like little octopus, probably the fastest-moving echinoderm? if you call 1-2in/sec as fast hehe.

I was like a junior scientists (a.k.a. 'Uzi'), examining different types of this unique creature - and WOHAA! to my expectation (based on the nat geo info), Feather Stars do host a number of small creatures living 'inside' it. Little crustaceans (crab-shrimp looking guys) rely on crionoids for home and food. Star's thorny/bushy 'tentacles' protect the homebuddies from predators (more like a moving 'coral').

F.Star survives by making 'abang', it will spread its galamays, catching small planktonic / organic debris from the natural agos / current, and slides down these particles onto its 'mouth'. It has very few predators (ex. triggerfish) - but then, who would want a tasteless, thorny food for meal? Stars are also not taken out of the water like sea stars, coz they're useless as decorations.

Maybe that's its formula on why it thrives and survives. It will definitely continue to survive and will definitely outlast humans. Imagine, 300Million years and counting, preceding and outlasting the dinosaurs.

A truly magnificent creation, a true-blue survivalist, a living fossil - that's our - Feather Star.