It’s been an incredibly difficult few weeks for the central Philippines. Following a 7.2 magnitude earthquake last month that caused considerable loss of lives and homes, the Visayas region was hit on Nov. 7th by Typhoon Haiyan (a.k.a. Yolanda), one of the very strongest tropical storms on record.
The areas worst affected by these twin disasters include Danajon Bank in Bohol Province, Bantayan Island off the northern coast of Cebu Province, and Panay Island further west. These are places where the Zoological Society of London and Project Seahorse has for many years collaborated with communities on marine conservation ventures— places where we have many friends, places we love. Project Seahorse is a partnership of the University of British Columbia (Canada), Zoological Society of London (ZSL, UK) and John G. Shedd Aquarium (USA).
The damage has been extraordinary. Over 2,000 households in Danajon Bank alone were badly affected by the earthquake. Reports from our team of local scientists and social workers indicate that 75-90% of homes in two communities on Panay have been destroyed. Bantayan, where Yolanda made her third landfall, has been laid waste. We cannot yet begin to quantify the damage to the marine ecosystems on which these ocean-going towns and villages depend for survival.
Our marine conservation team has now also embraced the responsibility for providing aid. Because the national or international relief effort has not yet reached some of the hardest-hit villages here, ZSL and Project Seahorse are working with the communities and local government units to provide emergency support in the form of packs containing food, clean water, and basic medicines. As we meet the immediate needs of the worst-affected villages, we will also be evaluating the damage both to the physical infrastructure and the environment. This will be the first step toward rebuilding livelihoods and rehabilitating coastal marine life.
In the meantime, a portrait of these devastated but still-vibrant communities is emerging. Every day our tireless field staff send new photos showing hope and resilience amid the destruction. We’ve shared a few of them below – view the full gallery of photos here.
If you’d like to help, please consider donating to the Zoological Society of London’s relief and recovery fund. The funds will go toward emergency relief and help to kick-start the longer-term recovery process.
Dr. Amanda Vincent is Director of Project Seahorse, a marine conservation group based at the University of British Columbia, Canada, and Zoological Society of London.