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3 Ways to save Nemo and Dory

With the release of Finding Dory this 17 June, a global spike in marine aquarium fish demand is expected. The Philippines and Indonesia are the world’s top exporters of wild-caught marine fish, supplying 85% of the trade – so Pinoy fishers will soon be scouring reefs for Nemo, Dory and all their finned friends. What can we do to protect them?

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By Gregg Yan
Best Alternatives Campaign

Sure, Finding Nemo was an awesome movie, inspiring a generation of people to love clownfish, now colloquially called Nemos. Its intended message was to keep fish in the sea, where they belong.

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But did you know that after the movie, millions of clownfish were plucked from coral reefs and plunged into aquaria? Everyone wanted to keep Nemo! Global clownfish sales jumped 40% and many reefs were left without the happily-dancing orange fish. Sadly, many died at the hands of well-meaning but inexperienced aquarists – because those pretty marine fish are also pretty hard to keep!

The Best Alternatives Campaign estimates that in the Philippines, about nine out of ten wild-caught marine aquarium fish die within a year of capture. Only the hardiest fish or those lucky enough to be bought by experienced aquarists survive.

With the release of Finding Dory this 17 June, a global spike in marine aquarium fish demand is expected. The Philippines and Indonesia are the world’s top exporters of wild-caught marine fish, supplying 85% of the trade – so Pinoy fishers will soon be scouring reefs for Nemo, Dory and all their finned friends. What can we do to protect them?

Choose freshwater fish – Goldfish, guppies, tetras and many freshwater fish are bred by the billions and are well-adapted to aquarium life. Farm-raised fish are cheaper, hardier and environmentally-sound options to marine fish. Since raising aquarium fish can be 250 times more profitable than raising Tilapia, it can be a sunrise industry for the Philippines.

Freshwater fish are our best alternatives to marine fish because only 10% of them are still caught from the wild, like African Rift Lake cichlids or angelfish from the Amazon River. Innovations in breeding might soon end the need to catch them in rivers and lakes while still supplying aquarists with the living jewels they love.

Choose tough marine fish – Marine fish are hard to keep because 95% of them are taken from the most stable environment on Earth – the ocean. Most can’t adapt to life in the average home aquarium, where water parameters fluctuate daily. Many are still caught with cyanide, which stuns hard-to-catch fish but kills up to 75% of them. Popular fish like angelfish, butterflyfish and Moorish idols are specialized feeders which feed on coral, sponges and other tasty treats the average hobbyist probably won’t be able to provide. This is why so few fish survive beyond a year.

Still, a few marine fish species can be kept in aquaria. Hardy and brightly-colored damselfish, gobies and blennies are good choices. Clownfish are the most popular, accounting for 40% of the trade. There are actually 30 clownfish species and Nemo is a Common Clownfish (Amphiprion ocellaris). Clownfish are relatively hardy and can be commercially-bred – but 75% of them still come from the wild.

Dory is another story. First, she’s not related to the Cream Dory we to eat. Second, she’s very, very hard to keep. Dory’s a Regal Tang (Paracanthus hepatus) and feeds almost exclusively on algae and seaweed. She’s prone to parasites and gets sick easily. Most importantly, the technology to breed her kind is still years off – so every single Dory you’ll see will have been plucked from the sea! If you really want to keep marine fish, then consult veteran hobbyists and forums like the Philippine Marine and Reef Aquarium Society (PMRAS), which encourages responsible fishkeeping. Get fish from reputable dealers like RVS Fishworld, which only sells cyanide-free fish caught by hand nets.

See them in the wild where they belongFortunately, the Philippines is part of the Coral Triangle and is among the richest countries in terms of marine life (this is why we export so much marine fish anyway). Diving or snorkelling here is way cheaper than in any other country. Wherever you are, there’ll be a reef nearby: Manila has the rich reefs of Anilao in Batangas, Cebu has Moalboal, Davao has Samal Island – even mountainous Baguio has La Union!

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So what might happen if we don’t heed these three steps? Let’s look at another marine fish, the Banggai cardinalfish (Pterapogon kauderni), found only in Indonesia. According to conservation group Fondation Franz Weber and scientist Dr. Alejandro Vagelli, from a global population of about 20 million in 1995, only about 1.4 million of them are left – and up to 500,000 are still caught annually to supply the aquarium trade. This means that without immediate conservation measures, they’ll be functionally extinct in just a few years. The European Union has now submitted a proposal to control the trade in the species. A hobby should cultivate love – and fish enthusiasts would be the last to want to lose beauties like the Banggai cardinalfish.

To spread the word on the web, Best Alternatives is launching the #DEFENDDORY campaign by calling on netizens to change their profile photos from now to July. “Instead of wanting to possess fish, let Finding Dory inspire us all to see them in their home – the big blue, where Nemo, Dory and all their friends belong,” concludes Best Alternatives Campaign Leader Gregg Yan.

Best Alternatives allies for this campaign include Bates CHI & Partners Manila, Centre for Sustainability, ComCo Southeast Asia, Conservation International Philippines, Fondation Franz Weber, Greenpeace Philippines, Muni PH, RVS Fishworld, Marine Wildlife Watch of the Philippines, Philippine Marine and Reef Aquarium Society, plus Save Philippine Seas.

Believing that everyone's perspective is important, Zest Magazine has opted to provide an avenue for these perspectives to be known. care to hear the publication's contributing writers; or better yet, do some contributing yourself by contacting info@zestmag.com.

Travel

Airbnb data shows how tourism has dispersed post-pandemic

In the Philippines, almost half of local Airbnb hosts surveyed said their earnings have helped them navigate rising costs of living including housing, daily necessities, and home improvement needs.

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As the travel rebound continues to unfold, the benefits of tourism are spreading across the Asia Pacific. In Southeast Asia, new analysis by Airbnb reveals that the resurgence in domestic and inbound tourism is empowering locals to earn a living and make ends meet.

With people continuing to embrace flexible new approaches to travel and living, communities that have traditionally missed out in the past are increasingly well-positioned to secure a bigger slice of the tourism pie, according to new Airbnb report Further Afield: Spreading the Benefits of the Travel Revolution’. Across the region, this has presented fresh opportunities for locals looking to supplement their income as they grapple with rising costs of living.

Across the Asia Pacific, Airbnb nights booked in non-urban areas have increased in South Korea (up more than 180 percent ), India (up about 140 percent), and Australia (up about 60 percent) in Q2 2022 as compared to Q2 2019. In Southeast Asia, searches for stays in Siquijor in the Philippines surged by more than 280 percent while searches for Marang in Malaysia almost doubled.

The typical earnings for non-urban Hosts increased correspondingly in the same period for a number of destinations. In Australia and South Korea, typical host earnings have more than doubled as travel returned in full force. In the Philippines, almost half of local Airbnb hosts surveyed said their earnings have helped them navigate rising costs of living including housing, daily necessities, and home improvement needs.

Not only are travelers eyeing destinations off the beaten path, they’re also looking to stay longer. Notably,nights booked for long-term stays (stays longer than 28 days) in non-urban areas approximately doubled in popular travel and remote working hotspot Thailand in Q2 2022, up from Q2 2019 pre-pandemic.

In Southeast Asia, a number of destinations outside major metropolitan hubs were popular  among travelers on Airbnb for long-term stays in Q2 2022. Examples included:

  • Dapa, Panglao, Dumaguete and Silang in the Philippines
  • Ipoh, Kuah, Semenyih, and Port Dickson in Malaysia
  • Koh Pha Ngan, Koh Lanta and Krabi in Thailand

Mich Goh, Airbnb’s Head of Public Policy for Southeast Asia, India, Hong Kong and Taiwan, said: “More than two years since the start of the pandemic, we continue to see fundamental shifts in travel that are creating new opportunities for off-the-beaten-track communities. It’s incredibly exciting to see travelers so enthusiastic about exploring new destinations, as well as the positive economic impact cascading to locals.

“The increasing popularity of Dapa, Panglao, Dumaguete and Silang reinforce the importance of the Department of Tourism’s plans to drive tourism development in the countryside and promote lesser-known destinations.  We are committed to continuing to work together with governments and stakeholders to keep inspiring travelers to step off the beaten path, and help ensure more communities can share in the benefits of tourism.”

In addition to encouraging travelers to explore further afield through innovative search tools such as Categories and I’m Flexible, Airbnb remains committed to partnering with governments and communities in Southeast Asia, including in the Philippines. The company has partnered with Thailand and Indonesia’s tourism authorities on a range of ‘Live and Work Anywhere’ initiatives to attract global digital nomads and remote workers, as part of broader efforts to drive inbound tourism as travel returns.

Forward-Looking Statements

This press release contains forward-looking statements within the meaning of the “safe harbor” provisions of the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act of 1995 about us and our industry that involve substantial risks and uncertainties. All statements other than statements of historical facts contained in this press release, including, but not limited to, statements regarding travel trends, the travel industry and the future of travel, the behavior of Hosts and guests and about our future performance, prospects, plans and objectives are forward-looking statements.

In some cases, you can identify forward-looking statements because they contain words such as “may,” “will,” “plan,” “expect,” “could,” “potential,” “objective,” or “continues” or the negative of these words or other similar terms or expressions that concern our expectations. Although we believe that we have a reasonable basis for each forward-looking statement contained in this press release, we cannot guarantee that the future results, levels of activity, or events and circumstances reflected in the forward-looking statements will be achieved or occur at all.

Forward-looking statements are subject to a number of known and unknown risks, uncertainties, assumptions, and other factors that may cause actual results to differ materially from the objectives expressed or implied in this press release. Therefore, you should not rely upon forward-looking statements as predictions of future events. Important factors that could cause actual results to differ materially from those indicated in the forward-looking statements include, but are not limited to, the effects and duration of the evolving COVID-19 pandemic on us, the travel industry, travel trends, and the global economy generally; any further and continued decline or disruption in the travel and hospitality industries or economic downturn; changes in political, business, and economic conditions, including current geopolitical tensions and regional instability; and the other risks listed or described from time to time in Airbnb’s filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission (the “SEC”), including Airbnb’s Annual Report on Form 10-K for the fiscal year ended December 31, 2021, Quarterly Report on Form 10-Q for the quarter ended March 31, 2022 and subsequent Form 10-Qs and Form 8-Ks, which are, or will be, on file with the SEC and available on the investor relations page of Airbnb’s website.

All forward-looking statements speak only as of the date of this press release and are based on information and estimates available to us as of the date of this press release. We expressly disclaim any obligation to update or revise any information contained in this press release, except as required by law.

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Destinations

Exploring the largest cave system in the Philippines

Caves are underground chambers, usually situated in mountains, hills or cliffs. Generations of imaginative fear-mongers have made them the home of everything from treasure-hoarding dragons to a whip-wielding Balrog. In reality, caves are special ecosystems which need our protection, particularly from unscrupulous miners who would break apart tons of rock for a handful of precious stones.

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By Gregg Yan

The Philippines has over 3100 known caves. Featuring 12 chambers over its seven kilometer span, the Langun-Gobingob Cave in Samar is the king of them all. Discovered by Italian Guido Rossi in 1987, it was opened to the public in 1990.

We recently explored it to celebrate the Year of the Protected Areas or YOPA, which aims not just to convince people to conserve the country’s 246 protected areas, but to encourage them to visit the sites themselves.

Caves are underground chambers, usually situated in mountains, hills or cliffs. Generations of imaginative fear-mongers have made them the home of everything from treasure-hoarding dragons to a whip-wielding Balrog. In reality, caves are special ecosystems which need our protection, particularly from unscrupulous miners who would break apart tons of rock for a handful of precious stones.

Unique But Threatened Biodiversity

Samar Island, overshadowed by more popular places like Palawan and Boracay, isn’t usually considered a top tourist destination, owing to its long history as a hotbed for insurgencies and a punching bag for typhoons. Though the Philippines’ thirdlargest island exudes rugged beauty, its real value as an ecotourism destination lies beneath the earth.

“Samar is unique because it is a karst landscape made primarily of limestone. Millions of years of weathering has created numerous caves and sinkholes on the island,” explains Anson Tagtag, head of the Caves, Wetlands and Other Ecosystems Division of the DENR. “Caves are special ecosystems which harbor highly-evolved fauna, most of which have adapted to darkness.”

Birds, bats, spiders, snakes, crickets and even blind cave fish thrive inside the Langun-Gobingob Cave. The lack of light confines plants to entrances, but mushrooms and other types of fungi cling to life as discreet denizens of the dark.

“The speleothems or rocks in caves are in a very real sense ‘alive’ – they just grow and move at timescales difficult for people to comprehend,” explains Dr. Allan Gil Fernando, a professor at the National Institute of Geological Sciences in UP Diliman. “The constant dripping of water for instance leaves minute traces of minerals like calcite. Over time these traces pile up to form hanging stalactites and their inverted kin, stalagmites. It takes about a century for a stalactite or stalagmite to grow one inch.”

It is because of their surreal beauty that many caves are sundered.

“People used to enter the Langun-Gobingob Cave to break apart and mine stalagmites plus white calcite rocks for collectors,” says Samar Island Natural Park (SINP) Assistant Superintendent Eires Mate. Our guide Alvin confirms this. “Locals used to mine the cave for Taiwanese businessmen, who paid a paltry PHP7 for a kilogram of rock. Balinsasayao or swiftlet nests were plucked out too, to be shipped to Chinese markets.”

The cave was finally declared a protected area in 1997. “Thank God for legal protection. Mining was effectively stopped,” says Eires. The Langun-Gobingob Cave is just one of many natural systems benefiting from the country’s protected area system.

“Declaring key biodiversity sites as protected areas is one of the best ways to ensure that future generations can continue enjoying their beauty,” says United Nations Development Programme Biodiversity Finance Initiative (UNDP-BIOFIN) Manager Anabelle Plantilla. “Visitors should positively support local communities but be mindful of the environmental impacts of their travels. They should for instance, avoid taking wild plants or leaving trash in tourist sites.”

Year of the Protected Areas

Launched in May of 2022, YOPA hopes to generate funds from tourists to ensure the continued management of protected areas hard-hit by COVID-19 budget cuts.

The Langun-Gobingob Cave is part of the Samar Island Natural Park (SINP), one of YOPA’s six highlighted parks, the others being the Bongsanglay Natural Park in Masbate, Apo Reef Natural Park in Occidental Mindoro, Balinsasayao Twin Lakes Natural Park in Negros Oriental, Mt. Hamiguitan Range Wildlife Sanctuary in Davao Oriental, and Mt. Timpoong Hibok-Hibok Natural Monument in Camiguin.

The country’s caves are now open for tourism, but visitors should know what not to do inside them. “Cave tourism should be well managed and there are cave do’s and don’ts,” says Buddy Acenas from the GAIA Exploration Club, a Manila-based caving and exploration group. “A comprehensive assessment should be conducted before a cave is opened for tourism. Trained guides and set trails should be used to minimize human impacts. Like so many of our fragile wilderness areas, caves must be stewarded by those visiting them.”

For its part, the Philippine government is doing what it can to promote responsible tourism. “Our caves, mountains, beaches and other protected areas are now open for tourism. We invite both Filipinos and foreigners to come and visit, but to do so in an environmentally-responsible manner,” adds DENR-BMB Director Natividad Bernardino. “By practicing responsible and regenerative tourism in PAs, we’re helping our national parks flourish and recover from the economic blow they suffered from the COVID-19 pandemic.”

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Travel

3 Ways to travel during hurricane season like a pro

Typically, hurricane season is June through November. If you’re planning on traveling to a coastal region soon, Yonder Travel Insurance has created a list of three expert tips to help make it a bit easier.

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Photo by Thom Holmes from Unsplash.com

Weather is a factor most travelers take into consideration as they plan their trips. Although traveling during hurricane season shouldn’t make you rethink your plans, being informed before you depart is wise.

Typically, hurricane season is June through November. If you’re planning on traveling to a coastal region soon, Yonder Travel Insurance has created a list of three expert tips to help make it a bit easier.

Be Weather Aware

Staying on top of the weather radar can help you mitigate changes to your trip. An easy way to be alerted if there’s a hurricane brewing is to check the National Hurricane Center or enroll your trip with the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP). That way, you’ll automatically be alerted about safety conditions and your family will be notified of your whereabouts if you get caught in a storm during your trip.

Buy Travel Insurance Early

Luckily, most travel insurance policies include coverage in the event of a hurricane or other natural disaster. The key here is to purchase travel insurance early before a storm arises.

“We recommend purchasing travel insurance after you’ve booked your trip. If you wait until the news brings up adverse weather and you decide to cancel your trip, it may not be covered under your policy,” says Terry Boynton, Co-Founder and President of Yonder. In addition to cancellation coverage, your baggage could be covered if it’s lost or damaged amongst the shuffle of delayed or canceled flights during your trip.

Pack & Plan Smart

Even if the forecast looks promising for the duration of your trip, packing a few emergency essentials and having an emergency departure plan in place shouldn’t be thrown out the window. Adding items like a mini-battery powered flashlight, a small first aid kit, a few granola bars, and extra cash won’t take up precious luggage space, but could be a life-saver in an emergency.

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