For the third fieldwork of Texas A&M International University (TAMIU)’s Philippine Study Abroad Program (PhilSAP), the Museum of Natural History took the delegates to Pangasinan last 21 - 24 June 2017 to observe marine and cave habitats. The delegates also visited a mangrove propagation center as a continuation of what they initially observed in a mangrove forest in Oriental Mindoro.

Accompanying them on the trip was the MNH team including extension specialist Florante Cruz, marine biologist Julius Parcon and entomologist Jeremy Naredo. Also extending a helping hand for the students’ learning experience was the caving group Balincaguin Conservancy’s adviser, Jerry Rendon.

It was a jam-packed day for the TAMIU delegates last 21 June as they headed to the University of the Philippines Marine Science Institute Bolinao Marine Laboratory (BML) shortly after arriving at Alaminos City. The delegates were welcomed by a video presentation showcasing the institute’s roles in preserving and monitoring the country’s marine resources. Thereafter, they were led to the BML’s outdoor hatchery where they had a chance to touch giant clams and hold sea cucumbers in their palms, a first-hand experience that the students were most thrilled at. Their exposure to the institute’s research and public service efforts at marine preservation efforts opened their eyes to the need of personally contributing to this important cause.

The next day, the group went on a short tour of the Mangrove Propagation & Information Center at Brgy. Bued in Alaminos. The area is one of two mangrove reforestation and enhancement program sites of the city. Here the students learned that almost half of the mangrove species in Philippines are being propagated in the center. Among those that they saw were red mangroves, black mangroves, saging-saging, and culasi. The students were also given a chance to observe the mangroves closely by walking in shin-deep high water along a short path towards the sea. They also learned that mangroves have a lifespan of 100 years and can grow up to 30 meters high. Mangroves are also sources of oil, medicine, plywood, and charcoal.

In the afternoon, the marine observation continued as they snorkeled at the Giant Clam Hatchery in Quezon Island – one of the major islands of the Hundred Islands Natural Park. Other islands with distinct features that the delegates saw were the Turtle Island, Crocodile Island, Governor’s Island, the Cathedral, Bat Island, and Marcos Island that has a cave-like structure with deep waters leading back to the ocean. Here the students had a short but fun diving experience.

The third day in Pangasinan was dedicated to exploring the Cacupangan Cave System in the town of Mabini. With the help of five other guides, Balincaguin Conservancy Inc.’s adviser Jerry Rendon led the MNH and TAMIU PhilSAP’s cave exploration. Mabini’s Mayor Alimar Briana also wished the team a safe and wonderful time inside the cave. Jeremy Naredo also delivered a brief lecture about caves particularly about swiftlets and bat guano.

Exploring the cave was challenging for everyone as it had no established pathways. The delegates had to at times crawl on their stomachs, watch out for very low stalactites, swim through narrow passageways and wade through the cool waters that had a rocky bottom. But the precautionary measures discussed by the guides were noted so everyone had a safe tour inside.

The group was divided into three to minimize the disturbance of the ecosystem inside the cave. Jerry Rendon was most gracious by assisting each group especially the non-swimmers and filling everyone’s knowledge with trivia out of his years of caving experience. Jerry Rendon also took photographs of bats, crabs, fungi and spiders that thrived inside and discussed about safety measures if one decides to do a study inside caves.

Although everyone came out of the cave wet and muddy, their experience inside was an incomparable one because aside from the magnificent view, the students were able to observe the cave ecosystem including the importance of both surface vegetation and bats for the organisms inside the cave.

MNH is scheduled to guide TAMIU PhilSAP on a trek up Mt. Makiling this 30 June 2017 to continue the observation of terrestrial habitats. In the meantime, please visit UPLB Museum of Natural History’s Facebook page at www.fb.com/UPLBMuseum as well as Balincaguin Conservancy’s page at www.fb.com/balincaguin.conservancy for more details and photographs of recent fieldworks.


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