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Saving Bohol's unknown underwater treasure: Danajon Bank

"(Bohol's) Danajon Bank is a cradle of biodiversity for the Pacific Ocean... Many species may first have evolved here and many, many people depend on it for their survival. But it's not an exaggeration to say that it is one of the most threatened coral reefs in the world."  
— Dr. Nick Hill, ecologist, London Zoological Society
The International League of Conservation Photographers (iLCP) has teamed up with Project Seahorse to launch a conservation campaign to save the endangered natural treasure, Danajon Bank.
Danajon Bank, an enormous 90-mile reef system located in Bohol, is an extremely rare geological formation. Composed of two sets of large coral reefs, it is the Philippines’ only double barrier reef and one of only six documented double barrier reefs in the world. The “center of the center” of marine biodiversity, it is considered one of the most important marine ecosystems in the entire Pacific Ocean.  
Sadly, Danajon Bank is relatively unknown not only to the rest of the world, but locally as well. For many years it has been threatened by the usual culprits: overfishing, damaging fishing practices, overdevelopment, and climate change, according to National Geographic News Watch.
A collaboration between NGOs, scientists, and photographers, Expedition: Danajon Bank is an attempt to save Danajon Bank by showcasing its rare and exquisite beauty to the world, according to the Tumbler page of Expedition: Danajon Bank. ( For this purpose it has sent two pre-eminent marine biologists and four top nature photographers to the Philippines early this April to visually document the double barrier reef, its diverse wildlife of over 200 beautiful yet threatened species, and the half million people who are utterly dependent on its natural resources for their food and livelihoods.
Following the expedition, the result will be an international photo exhibition, a beautiful hardcover photo book, and a campaign to support Danajon Bank, all with the ultimate goals of securing legal protections for this valuable yet fragile ecosystem, raising awareness about the threats facing it, and educating the world about marine conservation.
The breathtaking places and people of Danajon Bank
The expedition consists of photographers Thomas Peschak of South Africa, Luciano Candisani of Brazil, Claudio Contreras of Mexico, and Michael Ready of the United States, and scientists Dr. Amanda Vincent and Dr. Heather Koldeway of Project Seahorse – which they both co-founded – and the Zoological Society of London and Project. Dr. Nick Hill also joined the team as lead field scientist.
Though years in the making, the expedition itself lasted two weeks. The photographers used this time to capture the reef’s impressive but dwindling biodiversity. Each day consisted of around 16 hours of work, diving before dawn and returning to shore after nightfall. This allowed them to document a variety of exotic species, including the crocodile flathead, the winged pipefish, and the mandarin fish.
The expedition also took the opportunity to interact with the local populace. Danajon Bank is home to hundreds of thousands of people. Living in coastal villages on its many islands, they rely on the reef’s resources for food and income. Their difficult existence has forced some of them to turn to more damaging forms of fishing, such as cyanide fishing, blasting, and trawling.
Seahorse fishing is another practice that has caused some damage to the local ecosystem. To document a traditional method of catching the elusive species, photographers Peschak and Candisani spent two knights with a lantern fisher. The fisherman illuminates the dark waters above the reef to find the creatures, taking extra caution not to scare them away. A tiger-tail seahorse was photographed during this session:
A single seahorse is equivalent to a kilogram of rice. Lantern fishers, however, have been finding it harder and harder to catch these elusive animals, whose population has suffered due to overfishing. To save both the local seahorse population and these people’s livelihoods, Project Seahorse is working with fishers and traders to make the trade sustainable.
Others communities, however, have found sustainable methods to live off Danajon Bank. For instance, some have adopted seaweed farming, a practice that greatly reduces the human impact on the ecosystem.
Another practice that is considered safe, is the catching of fish to be sold to aquariums. This is an activity unique to the tiny island of Hambungon in Danajon Bank. The Marine Aquarium Council (MAC) of the Philippines has designated specific marine species that can be harvested without threatening their population. MAC has trained divers – boys aged between 15 and 25 – to identify these creatures and avoid those that are endangered.
Using only homemade wooden flippers, the divers swim down as far as seven meters to reach their quarry. Nets are used to capture and scoop up their prize. Each dive lasts up to four or five hours.
Each animal caught, the cost of which can range from 10 to 100 pesos, is sold to a distributor in Cebu. Not only does it provide the fishers a source of income, it is also a better alternative to the more destructive kinds of fishing.
For many years, Project Seahorse and local organizations have been working with the people of Danajon Bank to find ways to establish new reserves and sustainability.
Saving Danajon Bank
Beginning June of this year, photos taken from Danajon Bank will be publicly exhibited at aquariums in Chicago, London, Hong Kong, and Manila. A hardcover book about Expedition: Danajon Bank will be published by Project Seahorse and iLCP. The photographers will share their adventures with media outlets such as National Geographic News Watch. These communication efforts will increasingly direct the world’s attention to this marine treasure and its need of protection.
“By getting this story out into the world, we hope to inspire new environmental protections for Danajon Bank,” said photographer Luciano Candisani.
“There really is no better way to communicate the urgent need for marine conservation than through images that hit you in the head and the heart,” echoed fellow photographer, Tom Peschak.
Raising funds online  
In addition, Project Seahorse and iLCP have partnered with Net-Works, who will improve the livelihoods of local fishers by establishing a supply chain for discarded fishing nets.
Project Seahorse and iLCP have also organized the IndieGoGo campaign, which will raise funds to help cover some of the expedition’s costs. This they will achieve by producing and selling postcards, limited edition original photo prints, signed copies of the hardcover book, and a variety of other items.
For people interested to donate, the IndieGoGo crowd funding page can be found here.
Expedition: Danajon Banks was funded by the following partners: The University of British Columbia’s Fisheries Centre, the Zoological Society of London, Interface, Inc., Guylian, Manila Ocean Park, the Islands Group, the John G. Shedd Aquarium, OPCFHK, and the Nature Picture Library. — TJD, GMA News