Cal Academy partnership helps Philippines after typhoon


Long before Typhoon Haiyan ripped through the Philippines, the California Academy of Sciences was already working to protect this island nation's fragile habitats. Now that effort is kicking into high gear.

"The awareness it's created is more profound than anything I've seen in the Philippines in 20 years. Everybody is paying attention," said the academy dean of science and research Terry Gosliner, Ph.D.

In 2011, Gosliner -- a marine biologist -- led a team to the Philippines and it was the largest expedition in the Academy's history. American and Filipino scientists explored from the top of volcanoes to the bottom of the ocean.

It will take years to study everything they found, but some of the research is already being put into action. Just days after the typhoon hit, Gosliner was back in the Philippines, invited by a provincial government to talk about managing and protecting the coastline.

"It's really fundamentally important from the standpoint that a healthy environment is going to help moderate storms like this typhoon," said Gosliner.

A lot of the typhoon damage came from huge waves that swept through low lying communities.

"This is tied to climate change and this is the future that everyone sees and they are going to have to be really ready and prepared for that," said Gosliner.

A critical part of that preparation is keeping coral reefs healthy and protecting mangrove trees with extensive root systems along the shore. The trees and reefs act as buffers for the coast, blunting the energy of a storm surge, but many are threatened by human activities. Government leaders want to turn things around.

"This is really new territory and really exciting that they've asked us to be their partners," said Gosliner.

Academy research shows the benefit of creating large underwater parks where no fishing or human interference is allowed. They become nurseries that replenish the rest of the ocean.

Research also shows saving mountain rainforests directly affects the coral reefs. The forests hold in soil so it does not flow downstream into the ocean and cover the reefs with silt.

Over the last year, the Academy brought five Filipino scientists to San Francisco for training. Ivy Ambor Lambio is a professor at the University of the Philippines -- a key partner with the Academy in the protection of bio-diversity.

"The knowledge, the instruments, the expertise that they bring in to help us access this bio-diversity is really great," said Lambio.

Philippine forests and coral reefs are also critical to the country's growing eco-tourist industry because it is one of the richest eco-systems in the world. And despite the typhoon's destruction, most of the country is still open for business. Philippine officials say most of the popular tourist areas were not damaged in the storm. They hope international visitors will keep coming to boost the economy and help pay for the years of typhoon recovery that lie ahead.

Written and produced by Jennifer Olney.

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