Awards 1997 Cable and Wireless Award for Effective Communication

Cable and Wireless Award for Effective Communication

The Winner: Coral Cay Conservation

"I felt a charged sensation, half fear, half awe. I began to make out the shapes of branching corals. Ahead of me a sea fan spread its delicate latticework from the looming wall of the reef."

This is how William Cray in the Sunday Times describes his first dive to help survey the coral reef around Danjugan Island, one of the smallest of the Philippines. He was there as a volunteer for Coral Cay Conservation which is surveying the corals and fish of the reef so that a Philippine foundation and the local authorities and people can plan how to manage the forest-covered island and the sea around it.

"There is," says Jonathan Ridley of Coral Cay, "this fantastic small island with amazing reefs. It was in danger of becoming a hotel resort. The foundation bought it for 125,000, which we've been involved in helping to raise. The family who owned it needed the money."

It is a desert island in a real sense. Fresh water was running low when Gray was there. But he and the other scuba-divers got the chance to see the wondrous coral; and, in return, they gathered information accurate enough to produce a useful map at low cost.

Not much of the world's reefs has been mapped because mapping normally costs money and needs scientists. Coral Cay has devised a system which, after a week's training by the scientist in charge, enables postmen, school-leavers, teachers and company directors, wielding underwater slates, to produce detailed and consistent survey results. Everything they need to know about sea plumes, yellow pencil and zooxanthellae is set down in a handbook 100 pages long.

So the Philippine Reef and Rainforest Conservation Foundation and the local people will be able to improve the fishing off Danjugan. Bulata village on neighbouring Negros plans also a resort to attract some tourists to dive on the reef, which will augment fisher families' incomes of only l a day. The village will also benefit from radio communications installed by Coral Cay.

Besides the volunteers, who pay up to 2,550 plus the air fare (to do a 12-week stint), Coral Cay has been helping to teach Bulata villagers about the reef and its value. It has taught them how to do surveys and run scuba-diving for tourists. Coral Cay wants the villagers to be active partners in the Danjugan scheme because without them it will fail.

They have given up the more damaging styles of fishing. Cyanide (which enables fish to be caught alive) and dynamite are commonly used in the Philippines and the reefs there have been badly damaged.

Coral Cay was founded in 1986 by a university research scientist, Peter Raines, who took part in university expeditions to the reef off Belize in Central America. Belize's Coastal Zone Management Unit had only two people for 300 miles of reef, and too little money to educate Belizeans about it. So Peter decided to have a shot at recruiting paying volunteers who would both do the work and provide the cash.

Jonathan Ridley got involved in 1989 when he volunteered to do underwater photography. He says he has been fascinated by the marine world since boyhood when he watched Jacques Cousteau on television.

Now, from their base in Clapham, they run 12 expeditions a year to Belize, besides those to the Philippines. In 1998 they will be in Indonesia. They have also done a marine tourism survey for an outlying island in Vanuatu in the Pacific.

Coral Cay's Belize work has led to the setting up of marine reserves and a wildlife sanctuary. Over 60,000 contributed by volunteers has helped establish a marine research centre where students from the University College of Belize, and from the United States, will study.

A trust set up by Coral Cay provides scholarships in Belize and the Philippines and has produced material on coral reefs for British primary schools. Belize people also benefit as food suppliers and boatmen. A Belizean, Henry Lanza, is Coral Cay's operations manager. Coral Cay is estimated to spend 180,000 in Belize every year. But the annual value of its work there is put at six to eight million US dollars, if people had to be paid to do it.

Coral Cay Conservation, Elizabeth House, 39 York Road, London SE1 7NQ
Tel: 0171 498 6248 Fax:0171 498 8447