Today, we had a water spout nearby and the horizon is full of towering, billowing thunderheads. Another hot day at the equator.
With the exception of our brief stay in Manila and our Filipino colleagues on board, there has been little exposure to local culture. We have been floating around on the sea and diving deep into it, but in a sense we could be in almost any country. The ocean, like the air, is an international flowing medium of the globe that does not recognize the boundaries we draw on the map. But during our visit to Bangao, it became clear to all of us from North America that this was not Kansas anymore.
We were not allowed to go ashore because of security issues in the region, so the local Philippine municipality came to us. At 2:00 p.m. about 50 locals came aboard to welcome us to the region. After a very crowded ship tour, we all gathered in the mess hall for a few speeches. First there was Chancellor Eddie Alih of the Southern Mindanao University, followed by other Filipino dignitaries, all of whom were instrumental in granting us permits to conduct this research. Then members of our team reciprocated with speeches about our research and purpose for coming. It is important for us to share a little about what we are discovering with the people whose lives so directly depend on the Celebes Sea that surrounds them. By far, the major source of protein as well as their livelihoods comes from the sea for most people in this region.
Local dancers on board the vessel, blending in with the research gear
At the conclusion of this final movement, she hopped down, and then, as if it really were the apparition that it seemed, the whole group of dancers, musicians and dignitaries packed themselves again onto small boats, headed back to shore and were gone without a trace. Before I knew it, the vessel returned to deep water and the ROV was back over the side diving to 3000 meters.
That night, I spoke to Mon Romero about the people who visited us. The original name for the people of this region is the Bangas Moro and it is one of the seven predominantly Muslim provinces of the Philippines. There are splinter groups that want to make the area a separate Islamic republic, which is why security in the region at this time is an issue. These provinces include Tawi Tawi, Lanao Del Sur, Maguindanao, Basil Au, Sulu, Sultan Kudarai and consists of about 300,000 people.
Group photo of the team