In early April 2005, Myself and my American friend John Heitz were having a couple of beers at my Cambridge Farm Bar after a day of diving! My bar is a place where many great ideas are born especially after a bit of worship to our favorite saint, San Miguel! During our dives we had seen all kinds of degradation to our local coral reefs both man made and natural but the organizations who were supposed to take care of such problems were doing nothing so me and John, on the spot, decided that if we wanted anything to by done to improve our local coral reefs then we would have to be the ones to initiate it! After a few more beers, the idea of the Reef Dome Project was born!
Over the next couple of weeks we came up with several designs of Dome Shapes and Sizes, all made with locally available materials in order to keep costs to a minimum. The buckets which were to act as the casting forms were purchased from the Gen San Fish Port, others were made up by the local Tire Repairing Vulcanizers, steel, sand, gravel and cement were all locally purchased locally so no extra expense added there! As form oil was so expensive we bought used vegetable oil from Jollibee to stop the concrete sticking to the forms! My two old laborers were now the dome construction crew and the project construction site was Cambridge Farm Hotel! Now, everything was in place and the project began!
The first few domes were deployed on 17th April 2005 in the waters fronting Maharlika Beach Resort! This was a learning curve for us as we had built the domes but had never rolled them into the water before but all went well and the domes, as we hoped were easily moved by a single diver! If we decided to pile them in pyramids as we did later in the project we could usually manage this with 2 divers! Now that we had deployed the initial domes and we could see that it was quite feasible to easily deploy more, we went into full production constructing the domes and it was not long before we had many sponsors willing to assist in this worthy project! On many occasions groups who sponsored the domes made the deployment day as a family social event with parties on the beach, others just donated money, even the Padi, Project Aware Foundation made a substantial donation so the project was really flying so we decided that the number of 5,000 domes would be required to complete the project and as you can probably understand, that at this early stage, we still had a very long way to go! The number 5,000 was just picked from the air!
After about 3 weeks we were inspecting the first domes that we had deployed and we were very surprised to find life starting to take hold in the form of small marine worms, tiny barnacles, green algea and other minute creatures! We were kind of shocked with this growth as we were thinking that it would be months or even years before anything really happened growth wise! We also noticed that small Damsel Fish had staked a claim to each dome as their home and would defend them vigorously even from creatures the size of divers, they were quite fearless and we got hit on numerous occasions! The more we studied the domes the more we got interested in how life developed on them! There were many broken an uprooted corals all around the reef so we decided to try to transplant some onto the domes just to see how they would react! Some were not successful and did not survive but many did especially the soft corals so we made it a point in future deployments to gather loose corals and attach them to the domes in order to kick start the growth!
The more domes we deployed, the more we learned about how long it took different kinds of life to take hold and grow! Barnacles were very fast growers but were also a food source for Parrot Fish etc! The algae was food for the grazing creatures like Surgeon Fish! Some coral species took hold and grew very quickly while some of the harder corals take a much longer time to show themselves but in time, everything was growing well and new coral reefs were being created in different areas of Sarangani Bay and beyond! With this new supply of marine accommodation came the immigrants, fish of all kinds moved in, Shell Fish, Octopus and Crustaceans, Cucumbers and Urchins, predators like Lion Fish, Scorpion fish and Moray Eels, all forms of live were now in resident, these new reefs even started having some form of order to their society! To say that we were extremely elated was an understatement! We were two very happy people and were really astonished that our little project was creating so much improvement to the Marine Environment!
Like many projects, ours was not all plain sailing as we had our delays! Most were caused by bad weather which we could do nothing about, sometimes the local divers were not available to assist in deploying the domes and some delays were caused when the construction funds were a bit low but luckily for us, the Gen San City Government did not slow us down with Bureaucrats and we were left alone to continue where and when we wished to go! On one memorable occasion, we were taking domes out to an off shore reef on John’s Boat when the engine stopped! The operator looked into the engine compartment and it was flooded, the boat was sinking! Immediately we threw all the domes over the side into on deep water, bailed out the water from the boat and drifted into shore at Maharlika beach! The boat was saved but 17 domes were lost to the deep!
All in all, it took us 40 months of hard work to get 5,001 Domes deployed and on 29th August 2008 we finished the project and relaxed! It was a hard struggle all the way through but we had the determination to succeed! We have been asked to continue with the project but I think that we have done our part in assisting the Marine Environment with its recovery so I hope that others will take over and continue with similar types of projects!
There will be more information about this project but this will be in the form of other articles! If we are to help to restore what Man and Nature has helped to destroy, we have proved that with a little bit of determination, good things can be achieved without too much expense! For the 5,001 Domes, our total expenditure was just P942,329.00 which was about $21,000.00! Each dome cost only p200.00 or $4.20! Already another organization is doing a project to deploy 500 Domes in Sarangani Bay and there is interest from other areas of the country so with a bit of luck, the local coral reefs might once again be an impressive part of nature and give the marine creatures a more natural habitat than they have now in a lot of areas! If we allow the reefs to disappear then the whole marine ecosystem will collapse and that can only be a disaster for mankind so I sincerely hope that our project has played a small part in securing a better and safer future for the inhabitants living in the under the sea realm!
More pictures and details about the Coral Development on the Reef Domes will be detailed in future articles!