Diving with Panda, Taytay Palawan WWF expedition

Jun V Lao, PaparazSea
Freya takes a dip in the crystal clear waters of Taytay


A few weeks back, I received a package from WWF Philippines containing its 2013 Calendar. I thought at first it was a token for services I made for them in mid 2012 but flicking through the   calendar, i noticed two of my photos were the back covers for the months of May and September month.

As with any normal joe, i excitedly posted this on my FB page for everyone to see. Quickly after posting though, it got me thinking, was this the life I wanted, a life of an uncertain future and much diminished economic returns. Anyway, beyond whats running through my mind, let me share how I actually landed this job in the first place.

The job posting was a shared link on the Philippines largest underwater photography community NUDI (Network of Underwater Digital Imagers). I didn't mind it at first, thinking someone from the group may be better equipped to handle the job and I didn't have any professional photography experience. I was at the time was just a passionate enthusiast, burning lots of money on dive trips and underwater photography gear. My buddy Bebot however insisted I try to apply for the job. She was very excited about it for me and shared this may be a good break for you. Having had nothing better to do, I sent a quick email, sharing over three years of my underwater photography work via my Flickr page & my You Tube videos. It wasn't hard to share my portfolio as I had lots of stock images and videotaped adventures. After shooting out my email application, i never expected a reply.

Around a week later, I received an email from Maye Padilla of WWF Philippines sharing if I may satisfy a shoplist of images to determine whether I can be considered for the pending job.
For some reason, I had photos of everything they required. Even as an enthusiast, I had this genuine soft spot for the ocean and I had several photos of fish cages, net fishing and bleaching coral in stock. Another week later,  I received an email requiring a brief chat via skype with tour leader Freya Patterson. After our 5 minute conversation, I received an email the next day that I was officially on board with them to Taytay Palawan.
Jun V Lao, PaparazSea
the WWF-CTSP contingent
The trip was never really about scuba diving or underwater images. It was more of an investigative trip covering current fish traders best practices, review of LGU enforcement and survey of marine protected areas while conducting a review, gathering insights on the conservation practices done by the local community juxtaposed exploring alternative sustainable marine livelihood programs beyond the fish caging industry. In short, we were there to investigate whether US Aid's money was being put to good use. It was definitely a no glamour trip and I was required (with help of course) to haul around 8 scuba diving tanks and several dive gear for the duration of the expedition since we went to areas without any existing dive centers. 

Day One started out in Puerto Princesa City where there was a meet and greet between the local Palawan WWF representatives Marivic Matillano, Edong Magpayo, resident local mermaid Jona and a Malaysian WWF contingent which was funded by a Malaysian fish trader exploring if Taytay fish stock may be a steady stream & good enough quality for export to Malaysia. 
Jun V Lao, PaparazSea
light moment with Freya and Edong
After the brief meet & greet, we all headed out to the local fish traders which got its stock from the LGU implemented fish caging community in Taytay. Maye & Freya conducted several interviews with them to fish out some insights on the business.

Wrapping up the interviews, we headed out to Taytay Palawan which was roughly a 4 hour journey, having some photo fun at Casa Rosa Taytay Palawan & nearby historical landmark Fuerza De Santa Isabel which will be our residence for the remainder of the trip

Our second day started early in the morning as we had a very busy schedule ahead of conducting several interviews at the heart of the fish caging effort supported by US AID & WWF.

We initially documented discussions with the local community heads and in the afternoons, we went to simply shoot what a fish cage looks like from beneath. 

Jun V Lao, PaparazSea
Fish Caging
We ended the day early so we decided to have a bit of freediving fun at Hidden Lagoon Elephant Island as it was on the way back to Casa Rosa

Day three...the team heard of this private island called Noah Noah which was one of the few islands which have successfully implemented a marine sanctuary in Taytay. The local WWF team called Andy, the owner of the island to ask if the team may conduct several interviews how he has managed the marine sanctuary and explore if if can be taken as a success model MPA story. We were allowed to go and check out the area ...topside, we were greeted with such opulence and beauty... it was the picture perfect image of Paradise...

With my jaw still dropped, Freya handled the 'get to know' part where Andy at first had his guard up, with a commanding voice which would make anyone buckle asking why we really were on his island. Gracefully, Freya steadfast shared the reasons we were there and after an initially cold few minutes of discussion, we all were smiling and laughing and sharing stories. It was quite an entertaining meet as Freya shared her misadventures & Andy confined his tales on living in Taytay while we seamlessly tackled conversations about the marine sanctuary in front of him. One of the yummiest pizza was served to us by Andy's private chef in between the dialogue...
Photgrapher, Jun V Lao,
at Andy's place with Maye, Freya, Jonna
After a quick tour of Andy's magnificent house, he invited us in the afternoon to check out the reef in front of his island. As everyone dove in, we can see the reef used to be a victim of much dynamite fishing and it only became a marine park for less than a decade. Young soft corals have been observed to be blossoming and a few staghorns & sponges were slowly replacing the damaged ones. The visibility was crystal clear, I wouldnt be surprised if this will become an awesome reef in a few more years but it was observed that much coral bleaching was happening all over which no mere concerned mortal, conservation group nor marine park paperwork can cure.  

mansion in paradise

On the fourth day, we attended several local meetings. Not much adventures happened here, just mostly interviewing key local people  handling the marine conservation initiative while we met with the local town Vice Mayor & key stakeholders of the project during the evenings where the LGU presented The Past, Present and Future of the US Aid funded effort.

Day 5, we left again early to reach a remote area to check another alternative marine livelihood program which was centered on Seaweeds. My initial question at the time was why this business hasn't been explored to be done in the reefs of Batangas or other parts of the Philippines. Knowledgable marine locals were quick to share there have been attempts to do the same model in other reefs around the Philippines but the waters of Taytay Palawan are where Seaweeds flourish the most. We spent the whole day exploring the area while conducting several interviews with various families about the positive impact of seaweed farming had on their lives vs their previous livelihood as fisherfolk. 

 The final day of our expedition was about collating all the photos, videos and for Freya & Maye to finish their reports to their principals. It was more laidback & everyone was happily exhausted. I did some last minute pleasure shooting prior heading back to Puerto Princesa where we had to take a public bus, as our supposed private van was re-assigned to be used by a more sophisticated or higher ranked NGO within the US Aid roster who came in at the last minute of our trip. I was quite surprised & appalled at first for the discrimination, not for me but more for Maye & Freya but it was what it was and it was cool to see Freya happily amused taking photos of the chickens which were beside us on the non aircon public bus.
Jun V Lao, PaparazSea


The return was quite tedious as we had to take along 8 tanks and dive gear and loads of other things. We almost never made it to the airport as said public bus tire blew up in the final stretch of the trip but fortunately in the end, we all got back to Puerto Princesa where the team had a final lunch together, did loads of file transfers and exchanged final goodbyes. For some weird reason, I lost the photos I had from the public bus experience till the parting of ways to the airport. Such a waste as those were some of the more funny happy pics of the trip.

a mothers love
Looking back, I am still quite in disbelief that I have been fortunate enough to have bagged this gig. Despite all the hurdles we encountered, it collectively was a very happy and easy going expedition for everyone. Till this day, no matter how short the stint was for me & despite the measly economic returns, I can look back and tell myself, you have lived your dream, even if it was for but a brief moment...I still did... a memory I can forever cherish.
Photographer, Jun V Lao, PaparazSea
Published photos of WWF Philippines collaterals

Photographer Jun V Lao, PaparazSea
Reposted on WWF Global Website April 2015





passion photographer, cafe racer fanatic

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thanks for sharing again, masaya masaya :D

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