Only 24, this young woman is making waves in environmental advocacy in Philippines, mainly through her work with Save Philippines Seas, a project to protect the country’s marine resources. An English graduate, Oposa puts her skills to good use as a writer, teacher and trainer and, has co-authored a book on climate change for elementary school children. The youngest and only Filipino recipient of the Future for Nature award presented annually by the Netherlands’ Future for Nature Foundation, Oposa talks to us about her passion to make the world a better place.
Compiled by Chitra S
How did your love for the outdoors turn into a passion for environmental causes?
My love for the outdoors, specifically the beach and the sea, and my passion for environmental causes have never been separate. My parents raised me and my brothers that way. We were told that it was our responsibility to take care of the environment.
Why is Save Philippine Seas close to your heart?
I grew up near the sea. I started diving at 15 because my brothers and dad were divers too. The sea is a unique environment but it’s unfortunate that many people do not get to see it. I’m convinced that if they did, they would be more inspired to protect it. Save Philippine Seas (SPS) was created by like-minded people whose goal was to protect our waters.
Tell us about your role as the chief mermaid of Save Philippines Seas?
My role includes networking, collaborating with partners, representing the organisation in media-related events and activities, and overseeing different projects and campaigns.
What are some of the challenges you face as an environmentalist?
Because of my age, my projects and intentions are often questioned. I used to get hurt about it, but now I just work harder. Dealing with bureaucracy can be frustrating but that’s part of the job. The biggest challenge, though, is apathy. It is not easy to get people to care, even when it’s for their own good.
Tell us about your projects with kids.
I started teaching musical theatre to kids when I was 15. That evolved into teaching environmental education through theatre. Filipinos love singing and dancing and it is through these mediums that I teach kids and share the cause. It’s important to start them young because it’s easier to mold their minds, habits and perspectives.
You have spoken against the exploitation and illegal exportation of marine species in Philippines. What gives you the courage to speak your mind?
Speaking my mind for causes I believe in comes naturally to me. I believe young people should speak out but they should also be constructive when voicing their opinions. It is equally important to think of solutions to problems and not just pass judgement.
What has been your proudest achievement?
It makes me proud to see my students start their own movements and projects. Being the youngest and only Filipino recipient of the Future for Nature Award was pretty cool too, if only to show the world that a Filipino can, and that age is not a hindrance but an advantage.
What are the projects you are currently involved in?
The two major projects are the Thresher Shark Shelter in Malapascua, Cebu and the Ecotown Development Framework of San Vicente, Palawan with the Climate Change Commission.
What are your goals for the year?
In 2013, the shark sanctuary project continues. We’ll be holding coastal law enforcement training for the bantay dagat (volunteer fisheries patrol force) in Cebu in February, and an Arts-Science Festival for students and teachers in April. Save Philippine Seas will also be organising a number of events for the Month of the Ocean in May 2013 with cooperation from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources. We’re also launching a nationwide monitoring and evaluation project for marine turtles called Pawikan Watchers.
Who inspires you?
The Filipino people are my biggest inspiration. So are the people I work with, from the boat crew to marine biologists who motivate me to work harder. Also, I’m blessed with supportive family and friends who inspire me to be the best I can.
Anna’s Top Tips for Travelling Green
- Instead of getting souvenirs made of seashells, which is part of the natural environment, take home handicrafts like sarongs or locally grown products like coffee that supports community traditions and help pump money into the local economy.
- Carry your own shopping bags and water bottles to reduce usage of plastics and other non-biodegradables.
- Provide feedback and write down complaints or commendations you have about your travel experience. This enables local authorities to improve their services and continue good practices.