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3,500 Artificial Reef Domes Placed Off Philippines Coastal City; 'I Hope That Others Will Follow Our Lead'

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GENERAL SANTOS CITY, The Philippines -- Over 3,500 artificial reef domes have been submerged in parts of the 214,000-hectare Sarangani Bay to protect it, two years after private scuba diving aficionados started the project.

The Sarangani Bay Divers were elated that their project has gained the support of other private and public groups.

The hectare bay covers the towns of Glan, Malapatan, Alabel, Maasim, all in Sarangani province, and General Santos City.

Group spokesman Christopher Dearne said Project Aware Foundation provided 900 Australian dollars and the Philippine Ports Authority funded 100 domes for the project.

Dearne said they expect the project to be completed by the end of this year.

He said the group targets to deploy a total of 5,000 domes in three years. The artificial reef dome project started April 1, 2005.

The first domes were plunged a few days later at the Maharlika Beach resort at the outskirts of General Santos City.

Dearne said unkind weather has slowed down the project, as the waves have been just too big and powerful to allow divers to work safely deploying the domes on many occasions.

Last January, members of the Sarangani Bay Divers had a rest period both for the dome construction team and the divers, forced by the poor weather condition.

"In many cases, the transplants have really taken a good hold and are developing very well. Table corals have really surprised us in many cases with their speed of growth," Dearne said.

"The soft hand corals, on the other hand, have now totally covered some domes with their aggressive growth leaving a well camouflaged habitat module for the marine creatures. Broken Table Corals seem to like being transplanted on the domes and attach themselves very quickly, [and] with care, the broken coral complete with its fish population can be moved," he added.

The volume of life has visibly increased in most areas and the members hope that as the new reefs mature, so too will the population of marine organisms.

However, local fishermen have noticed the increase in the fish population and are targeting these areas which have given the divers the idea to construct areas where the domes will actually be used to attract fish specifically for the local fishermen.

In doing so, the private divers composed mostly of businessmen expressed hopes the fishermen will have a livelihood and will stay away from the areas that the group wants to preserve.

Dearne said the three-year, 5,000-dome project costs less than $20,000, or $4 for each dome.

"I believe that this is very good value for money for such a large project. Domes at this low cost are really affordable to all countries and I hope that others will follow our lead and restore their own reefs at such a cheap price," he said.

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