Growing up in Mindoro, I could go to the beach anytime. Sadly, I have also witnessed firsthand how people carelessly neglect and abuse our seas.
There have been many reports and analyses on the threat of climate change to Philippine marine life. The problem of overfishing and coral reef destruction have also been raised.
Recently, media reported on China’s poaching of giant clams and destruction of coral reefs in Scarborough Shoal. But the Philippines’ foreign affairs chief said China doesn’t owe us for these transgressions.
Waking up to such news makes me feel that saving our seas is a lost cause. I’m glad that there are still people and nongovernment organizations (NGOs) like Save Philippine Seas, which is committed to help conserve and protect the country’s coastal and marine resources
Social media ‘mola mola’
My volunteer experience at Save Philippine Seas started when I became its social media mola mola this year. My task is to curate the daily content of its Facebook page for a month. The goal is to spark public awareness and educate “seatizens” by sharing news and updates about the marine environment.
Later on, I got the opportunity to attend its A-B-Seas camp, a three-day marine conservation program in Calatagan, Batangas, that tackled the basics of marine biodiversity.
The camping site was only three hours from Manila by car, so it was easily accessible. The site also had the three coastal marine ecosystems—coral reefs, mangroves and seagrass.
I thought I would be a loner in a crowd of marine biologists in the camp but, to my surprise, the participants came from diverse backgrounds. There were marketing professionals, an air traffic controller, a civil engineer, a food scientist, an art management student and a teacher who eventually became my seablings (pun intended) during the camp.
The next day, the scorching heat didn’t stop our group from diving into the clear waters of Calatagan, swimming near mangroves and snorkeling around coral reefs. It was an incredible sight—the coral formations, as well as Dory (royal blue tang)!
But coral reefs were not made simply for people’s pleasure. A coral belongs to the class Anthozoa in the animal phylum Cnidaria, which includes sea anemones and jellyfish. Also called “rainforests of the sea,” coral reefs serve as food and habitat for sea creatures, thus playing a crucial role in ecological balance. Corals take thousands of years before they can fully mature.
Corals, seagrass and mangroves function as barriers against the impact of storm surges. Humanity owes it to these marine ecosystems to protect them.
At the camp, I also learned that more than half of the oxygen in the planet is produced by phytoplankton—microscopic plants of the Earth’s oceans. Unfortunately, these plants die as the ocean’s temperature rises.
On the camp’s first day, we were a bunch of scrappy 20-somethings who didn’t have even the most basic marine conservation knowledge. But now we know. It’s an empowering experience to learn with young people who share the same advocacy even with our diverse backgrounds and personalities.
Since joining the camp, I realized that people need the oceans and seas more than we think—other than being a flawless backdrop for Instagram. The depths of the oceans provide everything—from the food we eat to the air we breathe.
In the past, a sense of fear would hover whenever I would look out far across the sea. Now I feel hope, filled with overwhelming optimism.
How you can help
There are many ways how you can help save our seas. Take part in coastal cleanups, sign an online petition, implement community-based projects, join marine conservation camps, refuse single-use plastics, or politely nudge someone who picks up a sea star. Or you can write.
Break free from plastic
The Philippines is the third worst plastic polluter in the world, next only to China and Indonesia. If it isn’t alarming, think about the dead marine animals washed into our shores, with lots of plastic waste in their stomachs.
If plastic consumption increases, there will be more plastic than fish in the ocean by 2050, according to a United Nations report.
But no matter how daunting it looks, there are a number of proactive solutions I learned from the camp:
Refuse single-use plastics. According to a study by Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives, Filipinos use more than 163 million plastic sachet packets, 48 million shopping bags and 45 million thin film bags daily. Buy in bulk, bring your own bottle and use refillables instead.
Carry a reusable bag wherever you go. The best way to refuse plastic is to make the effort to carry your own reusable bag. In this way, you’ll feel less dependent on plastics.
Rethink Eco-Bricks. Eco-Bricks (plastic bottles filled with nonbiodegradable materials) are not structurally sound in the long run, compromising the safety of people. Rather than persuading people to reduce plastic consumption, making Eco-Bricks only encourages them to buy more plastic.
Write to our leaders. One way to be proactive is to write letters to our leaders, whether it’s a complaint or letter of commendation. If there’s someone who has power and resources to implement environmental laws, it’s a government official.
Elect pro-environment leaders. In the coming elections, support leaders who are capable of finding solutions to issues on waste management, costly energy resources, plastic pollution, irresponsible mining, climate justice, biodiversity and sustainability.