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Destinations

In the midst of the giant groupers

First mastered by the Taiwanese in the 1970s, full-cycle or closed loop mariculture entails breeding and rearing fish in complete captivity and is meant to eliminate the need to draw from wild stocks. Hardier but lower-value species such as green grouper and tiger grouper have been successfully bred and reared in captivity since the year 2000. Few have met success with finicky leopard coral trout, but the Palawan Aquaculture Corporation claims to have successfully bred them – a vital first step for the road to full-cycle mariculture.

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By Gregg Yan, WWF

A typical grow-out facility in Southern Palawan. Operators must feed and protect the fish, which are held in submerged cages beneath and around the central hut for around 10 months. There is no electricity. Food and water are supplied exclusively by boat (Gregg Yan/WWF)

A typical grow-out facility in Southern Palawan. Operators must feed and protect the fish, which are held in submerged cages beneath and around the central hut for around 10 months. There is no electricity. Food and water are supplied exclusively by boat (Gregg Yan/WWF)

“Don’t fall into that fish pen,” warns Daryl Dandal, an offshore cage warden. “It has two giant groupers. Both are larger than you.”

I nod and tiptoe through a network of planks above the glittering waters of Taytay in Palawan, Philippines. Here lie about 2,000 fish cages, where various species of grouper are grown to feed a ballooning export trade. For the Philippines, this is the center of the LRFFT: the live reef food fish trade.

What began in the 1980s as an experiment in Samar now employs over 100,000 people in Palawan alone. Palawan’s annual grouper exports exceed P1.7 billion – but the fish are slowly disappearing.

LEOPARD CORAL TROUT

Chinese restaurants usually have a bubbling tank of grouper. Locally called lapu-lapu, señorita or suno, the lethargic predators are among Asia’s most sought-after reef fish, prized for taste and texture. Across the Philippines, millions of juveniles are caught before they reproduce, raising serious concerns about the LRFFT’s sustainability.

Although there are 161 grouper species, the apple of traders’ eyes is the leopard coral trout, an orange fish that fetches up to P7,200 per kilogram in Hong Kong and P13,500 per kilogram in China.

“When the trade started in the 1980s, most wild-caught groupers were market-sized, each around a foot long,” recounts Dr. Geoffrey Muldoon, WWF’s LRFFT strategy leader. “After 30 years, most of the large ones have been fished out. Today just one in five wild-caught groupers is market-sized. Since there aren’t enough adults to go around, the trade turned to grouper ranching, a system where juveniles are caught and grown in guarded offshore cages.”

Within submerged cages and pens, groupers must endure temperature fluctuations, overcrowding and diseases. Many die in the process. Those that survive around 10 months in captivity are sold as market-sized fish – each around a foot long and weighing from 500 to 700 grams. At this stage in the supply chain, a single suno, as the leopard coral trout is locally known, retails for about P2,500.

It’s a lucrative livelihood. Fishers earn up to 50 times more selling a kilogram of suno than other types of fish. Federico and Nida Ellut from northern Palawan sent their three children to school from their income as grouper collectors.

“From a simple straw hut, we now have a two-bedroom concrete home. We’re saving to buy our third boat,” says Nida.

Money talks – but extraction has hidden costs.

STOCKS DEPLETED?

The current system of LRFFT collection is untenable: WWF surveys have shown that over half the groupers taken from Palawan’s reefs are juveniles, a clear sign of dangerous stock depletion.

“Overharvesting has been a huge problem. Fishers were catching five times more than what could be sustained. Spawning aggregations were targeted, depleting brood-stock. Fortunately local governments and fishing communities have embraced conservation efforts,” says WWF-Philippines project manager Mavic Matillano.

WWF is now leading efforts to facilitate the recovery of suno stocks by establishing marine protected areas, plus enhanced enforcement, licensing and education. Alternative solutions may also exist.

“Given the fishery’s dependence on wild juveniles, a way forward is through full-cycle mariculture, potentially freeing suppliers from having to catch wild fish,” explains Muldoon.

First mastered by the Taiwanese in the 1970s, full-cycle or closed loop mariculture entails breeding and rearing fish in complete captivity and is meant to eliminate the need to draw from wild stocks. Hardier but lower-value species such as green grouper and tiger grouper have been successfully bred and reared in captivity since the year 2000. Few have met success with finicky leopard coral trout, but the Palawan Aquaculture Corporation claims to have successfully bred them – a vital first step for the road to full-cycle mariculture.

Farmed suno might soon be a commercial reality, but the clock is ticking.

“Just a few years ago, the panther grouper was at the top of the LRFFT heap,” says Matillano. “It was caught and exported by the millions, but stocks crashed and the government imposed a total ban on the panther grouper. The suno was next in line, becoming LRFFT’s top-traded fish.”

* * *

As I jump and dive around the floating leopard farms of Taytay, I notice how leopard coral trout comprise just half the fish in the cages. Whereas a few years ago cages would brim with bright red suno, each fish cage now hosts an eclectic blend of strawberry, saddle, harlequin and other types of grouper – now pressed into the trade to take the declining suno’s place.

I ponder how long before the suno population crashes. If and when it does, the market will likely move on to other fish, continuing the pattern of over-consumption. It’s clear that full-cycle mariculture of suno and other grouper species is the LRFFT’s best way forward.

Floating offshore cages house dozens of juvenile groupers in the municipality of Taytay in Northern Palawan (Jun Lao)

Floating offshore cages house dozens of juvenile groupers in the municipality of Taytay in Northern Palawan (Jun Lao)

Cherished in China for their ‘lucky’ red color, leopard coral trout (Plectropomus leopardus) await their fate inside a floating cage in Palawan. Some die of stress and disease – but enough survive to make the trade lucrative. Gregg Yan/WWF)

Cherished in China for their ‘lucky’ red color, leopard coral trout (Plectropomus leopardus) await their fate inside a floating cage in Palawan. Some die of stress and disease – but enough survive to make the trade lucrative. Gregg Yan/WWF)

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Travel

Travelling farther away from home linked to better health

How often people travel and the range of places visited are important, with those who regularly travel more than 15 miles away from home more likely to report being in general good health.

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People who travel more outside of their local area feel that they are healthier than those who stay closer to home, finds a new study led by UCL researchers.

How often people travel and the range of places visited are important, with those who regularly travel more than 15 miles away from home more likely to report being in general good health.

Those who travel to a wider variety of places are more likely to see friends and family. This increase in social participation is then linked to better health.

Researchers say the results provide strong evidence of the need for investment in medium and long-distance transport options, such as better serviced roads and access to trains and buses.

For the paper, published in Transport & Health, the researchers analysed travel in the north of England, where residents face worse health outcomes than the rest of England and many rural and suburban areas suffer from poor transport accessibility.

Specifically, they looked at the links between perceived constraints to travel outside of the local area, such as a lack of suitable public transport, and self-rated health, considering trip frequency, the number of different places visited, distance travelled, car use and public transport use.

Lead author Dr Paulo Anciaes (UCL Bartlett School of Environment, Energy & Resources) said: “We expected to find that restrictions on travel through a lack of access to suitable public transport or to a private car would be linked to residents’ perception of their health because of the lack of social participation.

“We explored the links between constraints to travel more than 15 miles from home, demographics and location and social participation in how residents perceived their own health, finding that the key variable is the number of different places people visit outside their local area. This links to more social participation and better health.”

The researchers conducted an online survey of 3,014 nationally representative residents in the north of England. Constraints to travel have previously been identified as contributing to economic disadvantage and a lower sense of wellbeing in the region, but the impact on health hadn’t been analysed before. The team used a research technique called “path analysis”, which uncovers the direct and indirect effects of constraints to travel outside of people’s local area.

The study found that the links between travel constraints, social participation and health are stronger among those aged over 55. Among this group, constraints to the number of different places people can travel to is linked to less frequent contact with friends and participation in clubs and societies.

Dr Anciaes explained: “Those aged over 55 are more likely to face other constraints to travel such as limited mobility. They are also more likely to suffer from loneliness. In the north of England, rural and suburban areas with limited access options are more likely to experience population loss as young people move to the cities in search of work and good travel options. Meanwhile, older generations are left behind in these areas with limited transport options. The range of places they can visit is low, leading to less social participation and lower levels of general health.

“The results of this study emphasise the need for public policies that reduce constraints to travel in the region, by providing better options for private and public transport that allows for more frequent and longer trips.”

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Destinations

The one-and-only Hobbiton from ‘The Lord of the Rings’ is now on Airbnb

With access to 44 Hobbit Holes, The Millhouse, The Green Dragon Inn, and other beloved locations from the work of J.R.R. Tolkien, guests will take an unexpected journey into Middle-earth for an experience unlike any other.

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For the first time ever, fans from around the world can explore the faraway lands of their favorite holiday films with an exclusive overnight stay at the original Hobbiton™ Movie Set. Russell Alexander is inviting guests to his family’s property to live like Bilbo Baggins and retreat to The Shire for an overnight stay at Hobbiton, as featured in the famed The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit film trilogies.

Nestled in the picturesque pastures of New Zealand’s Waikato region on a 2,500-acre working farm, the property’s rolling, green hills – bear a striking similarity to The Shire as described by J. R. R. Tolkien in The Lord of the Rings, and captivated Sir Peter Jackson’s movie scouts more than two decades ago. The team quickly realized the Hobbits had found their home – and this holiday season, it could be yours.

Alexander will host three individual two-night stays for up to four guests at NZD $10 per night* as an homage to the 10th anniversary of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, courtesy of Airbnb.

With access to 44 Hobbit Holes, The Millhouse, The Green Dragon Inn, and other beloved locations from the work of J.R.R. Tolkien, guests will take an unexpected journey into Middle-earth for an experience unlike any other.

With sweeping views of The Shire, they’ll enjoy:

  • Cozy overnight accommodation curated by the trilogies’ Creative Director Brian Massey, including a writing nook fit for Bilbo Baggins at The Millhouse.
  • Private access to a personal Hobbit Hole, set up for relaxing moments of Preciousss  downtime and afternoon tea.
  • An evening banquet in The Green Dragon Inn with a feast featuring beef and ale stew, whole roast chickens, freshly baked breads and plenty of ale, plus Second Breakfast and Elevenses served daily.
  • A behind-the-scenes private tour of Hobbiton Movie Set.

Now, one does not simply walk into Middle-earth. There are rules.

  • No unexpected parties, please –  unless with Gandalf and company.
  • Bare feet are allowed but wipe them first.
  • Magical rings permitted, but keep them secret, keep them safe.
  • Pony parking is provided only at The Green Dragon Inn.
  • Straying far at night is discouraged, thanks to multiple troll sightings of late.
  • No pets are allowed, except Pickles the resident Hobbiton cat.
  • Never laugh at live dragons…

“For more than two decades, we’ve welcomed millions of passionate fans to Hobbiton Movie Set, but never before has anyone had the opportunity to spend a night in Middle-earth. I am delighted to share the beauty of my family’s farm and pleased to be hosting this iconic location on Airbnb for fans from around the world,” shares Host Russel Alexander.

How to book

Hobbits, elves, wizards and others may request to book one of three overnight stays on Wednesday, December 14 from 10:00AM NZDT/5:00AM PHT at airbnb.com/hobbiton. Stays will take place March 2-4, March 9-11, and March 16-18, 2023. You Shall Not Pass! (without requesting to book, of course).

To request to book, guests must have a verified Airbnb profile, a history of positive reviews and be aged 18+. Maximum occupancy is four persons. Two bedrooms are configured, featuring one queen bed, and the other two king-singles.

Guests are responsible for their own transportation to and from Auckland, New Zealand. Round trip car transportation will be provided for the two-hour journey between the airport and the property. (And just as a Wizard is never late, it’s important our guests arrive at their stay precisely when they mean to).

Travellers looking to book should note that this stay’s rules require strict adherence with local COVID-19 guidelines. Guests are responsible for their own travel to and from Auckland. Airbnb is closely monitoring COVID-19 infection rates and government policies and will offer booking guests a refund of the booking fee ($31) and $1,000 USD Airbnb travel credit if Airbnb determines it is necessary to cancel the stay due to COVID-19 guidelines.

*Plus taxes and fees. These three individual two-night stays are not a contest. The Hobbiton Movie Set is privately owned and operated.

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Destinations

Greenfield District in Mandaluyong kicks off its holiday celebration

To mark the beginning of the district-wide yuletide merry-making, the event kicked off recently with the traditional lighting of the 60-foot Christmas tree at the Greenfield District Central Park,. followed by a magical display of fireworks and Christmas caroling by a 20-piece chorale , setting the mood for guests to get into the holiday spirit.

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Greenfield District, the smart and connected urban center of Greenfield Development Corporation (GDC) in Mandaluyong City, transformed into a holiday wonderland with the launch of GDC’s annual Christmas festivities called “A Christmas for Generations”. 

To mark the beginning of the district-wide yuletide merry-making, the event kicked off recently with the traditional lighting of the 60-foot Christmas tree at the Greenfield District Central Park,.  followed by a magical display of fireworks and Christmas caroling by a 20-piece chorale , setting the mood for guests to get into the holiday spirit.

“After two years of not having face-to-face yuletide celebrations, Filipinos are surely excited to once again gather with their loved ones to celebrate the country’s festive Christmas season,” said GDC President and Chairman Jeffrey D.Y. Campos.  “Greenfield District is a venue where different generations, from senior citizen grandparents to Gen Z kids, can bond with each other by taking part in the fun holiday activities of the District,” he added.

Ongoing  until December 25, Filipinos of all ages are in for a lot of holiday fun at the District. On December 17, families, especially kids are invited to come and meet  Santa Claus at Greenfield District’s “A Night with Santa” , which will feature merry activities and gift giving.

Meanwhile, adults can start their holiday shopping early as the Greenfield District Central Park will showcase weekend bazaars starting this month until December. Shoppers can look forward to discovering value for money gift ideas, trendy fashion pieces, delicious treats and more. While shopping, visitors can also enjoy a quick food trip and engage in Arts and Crafts activities while immersing at the bazaars dressed in colorful Christmas decorations. 

With a mission to build future-ready and sustainable communities for generations of Filipinos, GDC upholds its tradition of organizing events that promote the value of togetherness and spending quality time with the family.

“At GDC, we are committed to not only building properties for generations but also creating verdant, spacious neighborhoods where Filipino families can create beautiful memories together throughout the years. Christmas is a special occasion for many Filipinos, and we want Greenfield District to be part of their memorable Christmas experience every year,” said GDC Executive Vice President and General Manager Atty. Duane A.X. Santos. 

Located at the corner of EDSA and Shaw Boulevard, Greenfield District is accessible to the public through various routes and roadways from the main business districts of Metro Manila, making it an ideal destination for recreational activities, get-togethers, and shopping this yuletide season.

Visit the Greenfield District with friends and family this holiday season.  To know more about the activities at Greenfield District, visit https://www.facebook.com/greenfielddistrict.

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