Amihan sa Dahican – Save Our Seas:
Where the Love of Surfing meets Marine Conservation
By Ceci Fischer
CoalitionWILD Steering Committee
If you’ve ever been to the Philippines, then I bet you were stunned by the crisp clear water and white sandy beaches, the tropical landscapes and volcanoes, the warm air and the 1,000 flavours you can smell when you are sitting in one of the open jeepneys or tricycles, and above all – the friendly and hospitable people. The beautiful coastline of this country stretches for more than 36,000km – in comparison, the US coastline covers only about 20,000km – and if you think it couldn’t possibly get better, that’s when I would hand you a mask and snorkel, or even better, some dive gear, and say “yes, it does” – underwater. The abundant marine biodiversity truly makes you think you fell directly into a BBC documentary.
There is no other place in the world that has a richer marine biodiversity than the Coral Triangle, and the Philippines is right in its center, aptly called “the center of the center” of marine biodiversity worldwide. Unfortunately, there are many things that threaten this beautiful underwater fauna and flora, ranging from wildlife poaching, over habitat destruction, to illegal, destructive, and unsustainable fishing practices, such as dynamite and cyanide fishing (yes, it IS as bad as it sounds). There are also less well known issues such as light pollution, which can disorient species, such as little turtle hatchlings, who stop running into the ocean and turn towards a nearby beach bar instead. Even though many of us are equally attracted to these bars, it’s not quite beneficial for hatchlings, who will lose their initial frenzy and may never reach the ocean currents.
One group in south-eastern Mindanao is committed to help conserving marine wildlife species for future generations. They also take care of local kids that had to leave school or home because of poverty and offer them comfort, a family, and encourage them to continue their education. At the same time, they are very skilled surfers and skimboarders: The Amihan sa Dahican – Save our Seas (SOS) Team. “Amihan” refers to the cool North-eastern monsoon in the Philippines, “sa” means “at”, and “Dahican” is the name of the local beach, which is part of the larger Mayo Bay, in the southern island of Mindanao. The organization was founded and is managed by the Plaza brothers: Kuya Jun, Winston, Pedro & Wan. Being very poor kids themselves and growing up in an orphanage, they never got discouraged and would like to give back – to nature and society.
“Life was not really easy for us, however, despite of the setbacks, we were not resentful, but instead hopeful to turn our experience around in order to bring love and kindness to others.”
– Amihan sa Dahican: SOS team
The Team patrols the beaches at night to record turtles coming to nest, and relocates the eggs into a hatchery to protect them from poachers and predators, such as crabs and rats. This is a crucial task, yet eggs should only be relocated (after having been trained to do so) if they otherwise face destruction through threats such as predators or inundation, if laid below the high tide mark. Incredibly, three species of marine turtles nest on Dahican beach, out of seven species worldwide (did you know that the Kemp’s ridley turtle is only found in the Northwest-Atlantic, mainly in the Gulf of Mexico?). Unfortunately, all marine turtle species are classified as Threatened by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, except for the flatback turtle, which is data deficient (you would be also if your scientific name was natator DEPRESSUS!). This is due to still rampant poaching of live turtles and their eggs, using the shell for jewelery and the eggs and meat for consumption, boat strikes, net entanglement etc.
The Plaza brothers – founders and managers of the Amihan sa Dahican-SOS Team
Amihan sa Dahican-SOS raises awareness in the local communities on the important services provided by coastal ecosystems and wildlife; records sightings and strandings of turtles, dugongs, spinner dolphins, whalesharks etc.; and conducts regular beach clean ups to free the habitat from waste. The Team also takes care of injured wildlife, like entangled animals, removes fish hooks that got stuck on fins or flippers, removes fishing lines that were ingested, and so on. If you would like to know more about the challenges marine wildlife is facing, please visit the Threat section of the Team’s website.
These activities not only benefit the wildlife, but also the community, as many locals are increasingly dependent on tourism and on fisheries, which can only thrive in healthy ecosystems with wildlife remaining intact. Also, the beach clean ups prevent health risks, as children especially could otherwise get hurt by pieces of metal or glass shards sticking out of the sand when playing on the beach.
Aside from marine conservation activities, Amihan sa Dahican-SOS offers a sheltered home to kids that need a family, encouragement, and love – and teach them about important values in life, such as integrity and teamwork, about the necessity of proper education, and about the importance of preserving the beauty of Mother Nature. Their motto is “If you love nature, nature will love you back.” They are thus great role models for the kids, who start walking in their footsteps and will be the next generation of the Amihan boys and girls!
A marine turtle with a boat strike injury on its head, which can happen if there is no proper zoning established in the municipal waters and boats collide with the turtles coming up to the ocean surface in regular intervals to breathe.
At the same time, the team are all extraordinary surfers, and are even showcased in international competitions! They offer surfing and skimboarding lessons for visitors in sparkling turquoise waters, and combing this experience with information on the wildlife in the bay makes for a fun way to engage the public and visitors in marine conservation projects. The surf lessons also serve as an income source for the team, as they have only very limited means to conduct their activities. If you would like to support this amazing group and their cause, please have a look here how you can help. The Team and I would very much appreciate that, as even though they are facing a lot of adversities in their advocacy, they do not waiver in continuing to protect the wildlife in their bay every day.
If you would like to know more about the Amihan Team, check out their newly launched homepage at https://amihansadahican-sos.weebly.com ! I hope that you are equally inspired by their actions as me, and would be grateful if you could share their story on linking love for surfing and marine conservation – and how a local organization really can make a difference.
Thank you very much – or, in Tagalog – Maraming Salamat!
Ceci Fischer, 32, is from Germany but living and working in the Philippines. Her two focus areas are marine conservation and illegal wildlife trade. She has coordinated several marine projects in the Philippines, such as a fisheries closure evaluation, natural resource assessments in 33 marine protected areas and adjacent watersheds (ridge-to-reef), and has specialised in marine turtles. She is also the co-author of the recent Marine Turtle and Dugong Conservation Action Plans for the Philippines. Ceci holds an online graduate certificate in Wildlife Forensics and Conservation Sciences from the University of Florida and is currently working for an international organization, coordinating a project on combatting illegal wildlife trade in the Philippines. Ceci is a Rescue Diver and loves being underwater, as well as hiking, photography, graphic design, and acrylic painting.