11 – 15 May 2009

Our pilot was none other than Jewelmer’s boss JB, as Jacques Branellec is fondly called. Upon hearing of approaching bad weather in the coming days, he immediately offered to fly us around the pearl farm and neighboring islands. He had the two back doors of the 8-seater helicopter taken out for better photos, and strapped Yogi onto the floor of one side himself. The other open door was for our nice Chinese journalist companion Mr. Liu Hua, correspondent for the Xinhua News Agency.

JB asked Yogi, "Are you scared?" Yogi answers, "Um, I don't know yet."

JB expertly straps Yogi onto the floor. He also gave Yogi a kitchen knife just in case . . .

During the aerial, Yogi's grin was from ear to ear

During the aerial, Yogi’s grin was from ear to ear

JB is a superb pilot. A photographer’s find! He knew exactly how to manoeuvre the helicopter for best photo advantage. Then when Yogi had his fill, he would rotate in position for Mr. Liu to take his shot. We were so impressed, but some of our companions with ashen faces couldn’t wait to get back on land!

Rising water level reaching this old hardwood tree

A heartbreaking sight: rising water level reaching this old hardwood tree

The aerial images captured are quite a powerful lot. We saw a forest tree almost inundated by the coastal waters at high tide. It sadly looks very dead. Come December, the tides here get even higher, by another meter.

The locals complain of low fish catch and unproductive agar-agar harvest near this area

The locals complain of low fish catch and bad agar-agar harvest near this area

How a mountain is raped. Obvious siltation that chokes the reef and everything that lives in it

How a mountain is raped: siltation flowing from the foot of the mountain into the sea chokes the reef and everything that lives in it

JB pointed out slash and burn or kaingin that clearly showed siltation or run-offs going straight into the ocean.

Carrageenan or agar-agar seaweed farming

Carrageenan or agar-agar seaweed farming

A wave from an agar-agar seaweed farmer

A wave from an agar-agar seaweed farmer

We had cheerful carrageenan seaweed farmers waving at our hovering aircraft. What must they be thinking? “What a monstrous piece of flying metal!”

Super Hulbot or trawler within municipal waters. What to do?

Super hulbot or Danish Seine within municipal waters. What to do?

We saw a Hulbot Hulbot or a Danish Seine boat commercially fishing within municipal waters. The power of an hour’s flight allowed us to cover subjects and ground we can never hope to achieve on land or underwater!

One of many island paradise of Taytay

One of many island paradise of Taytay

Heavily guarded island where precious bird's nests are found

Heavily guarded island where precious bird’s nests are found

Beautiful jewel like island privately owned

Beautiful jewel-like island, privately owned

Of course other than our exposé photography, we also saw some pretty awesome island structures and private havens.

Fresh organic lettuce tastes best

Fresh organic lettuce tastes best

JB also showed us the efforts of Save Palawan Seas Foundation. We visited their organic and bee farm aimed to encourage neighboring islanders to stop slash and burn farming. The foundation is slowly helping educate the farmers to the perils of kaingin farming and introduce them to alternative, earth-loving ways to till the land.

Did you know that mangrove flowers make wonderful tasting honey?

Did you know that mangrove bees make wonderful tasting honey?

They also just started with their bee farming, and the honey we tasted was just superb, with bees sucking nectar from mangrove flowers. Through bee farming, educating people to the benefits of an intact mangrove forest is demonstrated. The bee farm still needs an expensive European machine to mould honeycomb beeswax foundations. Can anyone help donate one to them?  Please?

Oyster handler by day and dancer by night

Oyster handlers by day and dancers by night

Finally, the Pearl Farm 4 employees treated us to a surprise cultural performance. It was a night we will not easily forget!

So long and thanks for all the fish . . .

So long and thanks for all the fish . . .

Thanks to a full week of learning about pearls and an aerial treat we will forever be grateful for, we take our now traditional WWF portrait with JB and his marketing chicks – the untiring and always laughing Penelope Uy and young LV along with Flower Island’s girls led by the lovely Nenette.

An excerpt from Jewelmer’s website notes WWF’s involvement with the pearl farmers: “As a response to the urgent need for a comprehensive, integrated and participatory management strategy to address the widespread environmental degradation of the Palawan seas as well as respecting and fulfilling the rights of the Indigenous Peoples (IPs) and small local fishermen, World Wide Fund for Nature-Philippines (WWF-Philippines), the local office of the global environmental protection organization, WWF-Philippines, signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with Save Palawan Seas Foundation (SPSF), an organization founded by pearl farmers and operating in Palawan, on October 20, 2006 in Makati City.  This partnership was supported by the Philippine Association of Pearl Producers/Exporters, Inc. (PAPPE), the national organization representing pearl producers in the country.

The Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) was signed by WWF-Philippines President, Mr. Jose Ma. Lorenzo Tan, SPSF representative, Ms. Melinda De Luna and witnessed by WWF-Philippines Project Manager, Ms. Marivel Oygico and PAPPE’s Administrative and Operations Officer, Ms. Daniela Fenix.”