The rainbow reefs of Palawan, the snow-white beaches of Boracay, the surfing mecca of Siargao – the waters of the Philippines are precious places, harboring some of the world’s richest marine biodiversity, drawing visitors from around the world and supporting a top fishing economy.
Yet, the Philippines is among the three biggest plastic polluting countries and is the most dangerous for environmental defenders, putting the health of its coastal ecosystems under ecological threat.
Alongside the growing global youth movement acting to fight climate change, young Filipinos – and ocean-sport athletes in particular – are making their waters the focus of their careers and lives, to clean them up and keep them intact for the future. In this two-part series, meet four.
Read part one of the series here.
Camille Rivera, community engagement manager at Marine Conservation Philippines, freediver and scuba diver, Bais, Dumaguete
Marine Conservation Philippines is a non-profit working to protect fragile marine habitats and the livelihoods of marginalized coastal communities in the central Philippines. Connect on Instagram: @camzzrivera
“Bais is located in the Tañon Strait Protected Seascape (TSPS) which is the largest seascape in the Philippines. It has the ideal ecosystem of mangroves, seagrass and coral reefs.
“But in Bais, out of an estimated 600 hectares of fishponds, there are approximately 95 hectares of abandoned and underutilized fishponds and 35 hectares of undocumented fishponds, which are neither producing food for the community nor fulfilling government-mandated coastal management goals. This has also destroyed the mangrove ecosystem. So we created this project to revert Bais’s mangrove ecosystems back to how they were years ago.
“I think that the environment is not a priority in this country but basic necessities such as food and shelter are. Communities only consider if there is food today or tomorrow, and that is why fishponds are a short-term value. Some do not realize the long-term value of mangroves generating more fisheries in the future. That is why in order for us to do community-based mangrove conservation, we need to involve the community in a role where they can generate income with it in a very short time.
“It’s funny how I came into the marine science field. I just chose the most random course in university, a course no one goes to. I didn’t even know how to swim! It just started as a calling, and the moment I went into the ocean, I almost drowned, but I was still able to appreciate everything about it.
“I focus on mangroves because I think we’re all blinded by the conservation of coral and seagrass. But mangroves are the primary shields from the rivers, so they get all the sediments from the agriculture. Coral can’t survive the nutrients from mangroves. They also give shoreline protection, provide homes for fish and are carbon sinks. Mangroves are a balance between the river, the land and the sea. Also, I like those ecosystems that nobody else likes to look at.
“Understanding the social network has played a big part in environmental impact, and that is missing in most natural sciences. Communities need moral support and motivation, and that’s where we come in with happy faces. I’ve seen how they’ve changed their trust and relationship toward me. Their voices aren’t often heard, so they really like that we’re hearing them.”
Paula Rosales, entrepreneur, professional kiteboarder and kiteboarding instructor at Amanpulo Resorts, Palawan
Rosales is the founder of Blue Kiteboarding, a sustainable kite-sports consultancy and school, and a local travel agency. She was the 2015 winner of the KTA Asian and ICTSI Philippine Freestyle kiteboarding championships. Connect on Instagram: @Paularosales
“I’ve always been a water baby. I’ve been a competitor swimmer since sixth grade. From the pool I transferred to the ocean. I’ve always found a special connection with the water. Humans are mainly composed of water, so I always felt I wanted to be near it.
“The adrenaline I get from kiteboarding is something I’ve never experienced in any other sport. And it uses free energy. As we go into the future, we have to use more renewable energy, which can start as leisure. Instead of using a jet ski or motorized sport, use something more friendly to the environment.
“The Philippines is composed of over 7,000 islands, and it’s surprising that a lot of us don’t know how to swim. I was lucky to learn. In the rural parts of the country, the ocean is scary to Filipinos.
“When surfing became popular 15 years ago, this was a new avenue for the Filipinos to enjoy the ocean. There was no particular special relationship with it before that, but I think this was a good way to start. When someone begins surfing, it triggers something because it gives them joy. That’s why I think playing in the ocean plays a positive role in encouraging ocean protection.
“When I moved here to Boracay, I was very happy, living on white beach, teaching kiteboarding, living this perfect life. But a few years ago, I started getting sick from the water. We found out from a scientist that tested the water that the coliform (bacteria) was very high. So as an athlete and a person who thinks the ocean is my home, I felt the need to protect it.
“I do this through events and communications and spreading the word about the different issues to keep our home livable. When I got sick, I started doing beach cleanups and educated my staff about the importance of keeping the ocean clean and of conservation. For health reasons first of all – I couldn’t go in the water when it was filthy.
“If you love where you live, you have to do everything you can to protect it. The reason why I fell in love with Boracay was because of the beauty of the place, the nature, the white-sand beach, the ocean. I think we all came here because of that. But due to overdevelopment, the forests and ocean are suffering. I believe that it’s everyone responsibility – the businesses, the residents, the tourists – to take care of the ocean, to keep it clean and keep it safe.
“A lot of surfers and kiteboarders are aware of the importance of ocean conservation, and this is a good platform. It’s a cool way to learn to love the ocean. We should utilize the water sport community to drive change in this particular sector however we can.”