News from Leyte, Philippines

After a long day of diving in Tinag-an
After a long day of diving in Tinag-an

Pinsky Lab Phillipines is closing down after a great summer season! We (Michelle and field assistant Gerry Sucano) collected 540 clownfish samples and performed fish and coral transects on 600 m of reef off the western coast of Leyte.  While damage from Typhoon Yolanda (known as Typhoon Hayan in the U.S.) is still evident both on land and on the reef, there are still breathtaking stretches of coral habitat that are home to a diverse array of fish and invertebrates. We’ll be coming back here often over the coming years to observe the coral reef recovery, and in particular to understand how the dispersal of baby clownfish contributes to the recovery of their populations.

Sampling clownfish has its humorous moments, and it was especially fun to watch clownfish hide from our field assistant and clownfish wrangler extraordinaire, Gerry.  They would hide behind rocks and peek out at him from around corners. They would zip off to a neighboring anemone, and three or four would get together and watch him, swimming to face each other and then him in what seemed to be an animated conversation about the giant “fish” with bubbles coming out of its mouth.

Michelle at work watching clownfish.
Michelle at work watching clownfish.

The area of the Philippines where we work is a fascinating amalgamation of “primitive” with modern technology.  People live in thatch roofed huts and yet watch episodes of Game of Thrones on tablets. They use modern industrial materials to manufacture “off the grid” solutions, and the natural world is never far away. Even in our air conditioned hotel rooms, part of the wall was made of screen to allow air to move in and out (irony, anyone?). Being in a completely closed space started to feel odd, though the New Jersey winter will surely dispel that notion in due time. Meanwhile, it has been wonderful to enjoy living in this tiny piece of paradise.

Typhoon Haiyan: before and after

Michelle is still over in Leyte, Philippines with field assistant Gerry Sucano, but already, what we’ve seen of the damage from Typhoon Haiyan to the reefs has been stunning. This was the strongest typhoon in recorded history ever to make landfall, and even on the leeward side, the changes were dramatic in some places.

Caridad reef, Bay Bay, Leyte (2014)
After: Caridad reef, Bay Bay, Leyte (2014)
Caridad reef, Bay Bay, Leyte
Before: Caridad reef, Bay Bay, Leyte (2013)

Interestingly, though, other reefs were barely affected. A bit like a tornado that walks down a street, destroying some houses and leaving others unscathed.

Count-down to Philippines field work….

VSU corals before collage
Before the typhoon (photo by Laura Mudge).

We’re getting ready for our first trip back to Leyte, Philippines since Typhoon Haiyan made landfall last November, and preparations and planning are well underway for fieldwork starting in early June. By sheer luck, we have two years of pre-typhoon reef fish surveys directly in the typhoon’s path, which makes for a unique scientific opportunity. From photos, the reefs look badly damaged, and the trip is timed to learn more about how reefs like this recover after a massive storm like this. Funding is being provided by the NSF Biological Oceanography program.

VSU corals after collage
After the typhoon (photos by Laura Mudge).










Notes from the field 2013: Leyte, Philippines

Punta Lauis, Bay Bay, Leyte
Punta Lauis, Bay Bay, Leyte
15 days on the ground, 35 dives, and a very productive field season to understand metapopulation dynamics in clownfish (specifically Amphiprion clarkii). This is a multi-year project using genetic parentage methods to identify parents and offspring on the reef. See here for a few photos! Thanks to the the Marine Lab at Visayas State University for hosting us.