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So...what do you do again?

So...what do you do again?

More often than not, returning home to the UK means telling friends and family what I've actually been doing for the last however many months. And when I tell them I've been working in marine conservation in the Philippines I usually get a soft “tut”, a roll of the eyes and a comment about how they wish they could swim with turtles for a living! Sadly that is not my job description…

The view from Malapascua Island lighthouse

The view from Malapascua Island lighthouse

…My job is much, much better! And here's why:

  1. I work for a charity. (So instant feel good selflessness points.)

  2. I help a small team of exceptional individuals run an initiative of the United Nations Environment Programme. (So…I pretty much work for the UN!)

  3. I help the booming diving and snorkelling industry of South East Asia protect the environment rather than exploit it. (Helping save the World one tiny coral at a time)

  4. I have to travel…lots!

  5. I help bridge the communications gap between the private sector and the Government. (I help the people with problems connect with the people who can provide practical solutions.)

  6. I meet and work with passionate individuals from all over the World.

  7. I SCUBA dive!

  8. I’m constantly pushed to think and grow. (The nature of the job is almost obscenely dynamic and diverse!)

  9. And finally, I get to do all of this standing beside the 1 person in the World whom simultaneously makes me feel completely content, yet inspires me to achieve the impossible.

Don’t get me wrong. There are still difficult days. Hell, there are difficult months! There are seemingly endless hours stuck in front of a computer, questioning whether something is even possible!

But the difficulties and the frustrations never outweigh the positives. The take home feeling is always one of satisfaction...of achievement...of passion for my job - for my life!

And that is why I cannot wait for my internship with The Reef-World Foundation to end…and for my job with them to begin!

The Reef-World Team, from left to right: Me, Chloe, JJ, Sam, Jula and Alan

The Reef-World Team, from left to right: Me, Chloe, JJ, Sam, Jula and Alan

From office to sea

From office to sea

One thing that I learnt from myself on past job experiences is that definitely I was not made to work on a fixed routine. I’ve lived it, appreciate all that I could gain from it, but also I have renounced to it! A very scary decision to make, but then the freedom of managing my own time was priceless! When I first came to the Philippines and saw myself on an office – for a second I thought, what have I done?? But certainly, as everything about this experience, it had a very special turn of events.

Being part of the RWF team has nothing monotonous about it. Just before I could freak out, I knew that I was going to be moving around a lot! Resulting into a new perception of what office work means. Suddenly the office time became so precious and effective; instead of being afraid of the routine I was actually excited to get things done, before the new journey began.

The journey led me to Malapascua Island, after leaving Dumaguete and taking a trike, a four hour ferry, taxi, sleep, taxi, eight hour bus, small boat, ferry and finally our legs in a very very very hot midday sun; I am here with the team. This small island has a very special vibe to it; definitely there is a before and after the Yolanda event, and you can feel it in the people. Something positive that I have noticed on the after Yolanda, is that they have come to the realization of how connected they are to nature, they saw how nature can destroy; but also realized how nature can nurture and help them thrive. I am looking forward to spend more time to immerse myself on their culture and their perceptions, using the Green Fins initiative as the way to do it.

It is these kind of life experiences what I was looking for before setting on to my new Filipino adventure. I wanted something that took me out of my comfort zone and transformed the perceptions and concepts of everything that I thought I already knew. From the basic concept of work, to the better understanding of human interaction with the nature; of humans and the ocean.

My journey towards a #LifeBeyondPlastic

My journey towards a #LifeBeyondPlastic

“Remember your intent.”

My journey towards a #LifeBeyondPlastic, or at least a life beyond single use plastic, started as a simple desire to inspire people to take part in the International Coastal Clean-up (ICC) event in September. With the driving force of a dynamic and zealous team this idea quickly became something much more. It evolved into an ideal strategy for the goals Jula and I needed to achieve. And before we knew it, we even had a mission statement:

"To use the ICC to raise public awareness of the impacts of plastic marine debris, and to encourage people to reduce their plastic waste by providing them with alternatives and up-cycling/recycling solutions."

We wanted to explore the topic of marine debris further, absorbing as much information as possible. And we found that for such an enormous and relevant global issue, public awareness is still staggeringly low.

“80% of marine debris is land based.”

“60-80% of marine debris is plastic.”

“Remote Operated Vehicles found a Coca-Cola can in the deepest part of the ocean, nearly 7miles deep, where no human has ever been!”

“The Great Pacific Garbage patch is larger than Texas.”

“There is six times more plastic than zooplankton within ocean gyres.”

Fish are dying.

Seabirds are dying.

People will die.

Whether it’s the result of direct ingestion or depleted fish stocks…

…People. Will. Die.

And still, as a majority, the public aren’t talking about it. We aren’t worrying about it. We aren’t trying to combat it! The UK introduced a 5p plastic bag tax, years behind the majority of Europe, and newspapers responded with headlines like “Chaos Looms!” How is that right?

“Remember your intent.”

You can see how a person (me) could begin to spiral into a deep, dark pit of despair when facing such a seemingly enormous and infinite problem…but that wouldn’t really help anyone would it? Fortunately my good friend Jula is always nearby to remind me to “Remember my intent.”

Yes, this problem is man-made. Yes, we created this problem. But doesn’t that make it our responsibility to fix it? We need to change. Fast! And that was the point of our campaign. Raise public awareness and inspire change. The world needs change on a global scale. But even one inspired person is a victory. Because that one person can inspire others. We can do this. We can set off a chain reaction to inspire the world!

So help the world. Help yourself! Take the steps to reduce the plastic in your life, and up-cycle that which you can’t. Inspire others to follow your life-saving example and live a #LifeBeyondPlastic.

My journey to a #LifeBeyondPlastic

My journey to a #LifeBeyondPlastic

For me this journey began a LONG time ago! It all started with a bucket of paint, paintbrushes and very consistent visits to the ocean. I’ve always found art as a very efficient way of communication: it has no language barriers, no boundaries on how to express your thoughts and feelings, it involves the use of all your senses, and even though the artist can guide the public, it can be interpreted in many different ways.

Being drawn to the sea on a very early age I found a need to express it and I found art as a way of letting it out to the world. That feeling just kept growing and growing and drawing me closer to where I am now. My art grew with the interest and scaled from the mere representation of my feelings to the reality that I was observing. I started realizing how unattached humans were to the oceans. Not realizing how our current lifestyles have a direct impact in the marine environment.

Reason why I decided to use my art to communicate the human impact on the oceans, focused on marine debris. On beach or dive trips I gathered what people thought of as rubbish and used it as part of my paintings.

Having as a result SEA|SEE, an environmentally aware art exhibition, aiming to represent how a small change in our consciousness can transform the world that we live in.

From that point on I knew that what I really wanted was to direct my professional career towards the protection of the marine ecosystems, combine my passions: design, art, and creativity with marine conservation. Which is where I am now, enjoying the company of the Reef-World team.

This amazing team gave me the opportunity of materializing that ideal combination. During this past month, with the launch of the #LifeBeyondPlastic campaign, Charlie and I had the chance to encourage change in people, educate them and educate us at the same time. Having a bigger reach and amazingly positive feedback.

Those positive responses and realizing that there is an increase in awareness, that people are willing to make a change; gives you strength to keep on doing what you love. I just hope that this experience is the first of many more to come! #fortheoceans

‘Balot Dagat’

‘Balot Dagat’

A wavy ocean, that is how the last week of placement felt inside me. Movements of waves rising from excitement and a feeling of fulfillment, and lowering when it came to the realization that another chapter have finished and we had to move on. When you leave a place and you feel that something tickles inside you, it reflects from where you lived the experience and how. I definitely poured my heart and soul during these weeks of placement, juggling between the role of a Green Fins assessor and a Reef-World intern. Both responsibilities that challenged me every single day, forcing to bring the best out of me.

I was warned of the amount of work we would face, but it was not until I was actually living the experience that I could clearly understand the dimensions of it. Fortunately I wasn’t doing this on my own, I had the chance to share all of these moments with a group of magical human beings. Sharing even viruses that sent us all, but two team members, into bed with fever and “dodgy” stomachs, as they would say. Our bodies pleading for a pause, a forced pause, to recover and come back up again. Not by chance I received an email with the phrase: ‘Be thankful when you’re tired and weary, because it means you’ve made a difference’.

Even though we were tired, at the end it was clear for all of us that we had made a difference. Those big waves of excitement came from the reactions and humble gratefulness from the people that were involved. Expressed in powerful handshakes and sincere smiles, making us realize the big impact that lies behind the Green Fins initiative. Parallel to the thrill and excitement came the goodbyes, testing the bonds created along the seven weeks of teamwork. I will be forever grateful with all of those who played part in this special chapter of my story.

Now back home in Dumaguete the waters are much calmer, waiting for the next tide to come in!

Eat. Sleep. Conserve. Repeat!

Eat. Sleep. Conserve. Repeat!

The last month has been a whirlwind of study, travel, marine conservation and unfortunately, sickness! I’ve had 4 different ailments, seen 7 different doctors and taken around 70 tablets. Through it all “It’s more fun in the Philippines” has definitely been my favourite catchphrase but despite the set backs I’m still managing to do what I love and that feels incredible.

Alan and I braving various illnesses in Cebu

Alan and I braving various illnesses in Cebu

Before coming back out to the Philippines I was based at home for 6 months, spending some precious time with my family and desperately trying to scrape together the cash to pay off my last voluntary conservation role. I found myself working a mundane 9-6 job in a call centre and slowly losing all motivation to drag myself out of bed in the morning. I spent every day feeling unchallenged and uninterested in my own life!

Joining Reef World has felt like a renovation! I find myself challenged to improve myself every day. Whether it’s during a Global Marine Conservation module where you can’t sort your MMOs from your MNRs or a presentation where you have to explain global warming in a way that transcends language. This internship is not just strengthening my existing skills but introducing me to whole new areas of research and stakeholder interaction. Watching Sam (Project Manager) navigate meetings with Government officials or dive industry ambassadors in a way that considers the perspective of different groups whilst uniting them towards a common conservation goal is truly inspiring. I could never scribble enough notes to keep up with all this new knowledge but I’m certainly going to try!

Enjoying a sunny day outside the Moalboal Municipal Hall with the ZEP volunteers Debby, Alex and Nicola

Enjoying a sunny day outside the Moalboal Municipal Hall with the ZEP volunteers Debby, Alex and Nicola

A 4-day travel from sunset to sunrise

A 4-day travel from sunset to sunrise

Waking up that 4th of June knowing that all of the ‘things-to-do’ on my list were checked and done, knowing that I had already seeing or spoken to every one that I was going to miss; was the moment I finally realized that I was about to start a life changing adventure. Even though I was, and am, completely committed to living every single moment with an open heart and savoring each second; my stomach was full of butterflies, the type that ensured me that this was meant for me at this moment in life.

5 planes, 7 cities and 3 continents in 4 days were the beginning. A long trip I would take knowing that it was going to be totally worth it in the end. Life takes you to places you would’ve never imagined before. If someone would have asked me 10 months ago, when I was starting to do my Master program, where would I end up doing my internship; not even in the wildest guess I would say: sitting in the bean bags of MCP (Marine Conservation Philippines) installations down in a small town called Zamboanguita. The only thing that I knew for sure was that my new path was going to be directed towards marine conservation, I knew that finally I was going to be working towards making a difference in an area that I am passionate about. That was the initial purpose of pursuing the Masters, to get me closer to conserving the ocean and everything around it; something that I have wanted to do for a long time.

One aspect that has been present through all the process of getting here, applying for the internship, living here; is how it has all flowed so naturally from the beginning. It just felt right.

It just kept getting better during my first office day, the 2 main words that were presented to me (as part of the Reef World mission statement) were: “inspire and empower”; from now on everything that I do has to reflect these words. But now I can see that these words are coming directly to me, and what all this experience entails. Just during the first three weeks of being here I’m already feeling completely inspired by the work that has been done, by the passion it has been done with and it’s starting to make me believe, even more, how I can contribute, empowering my own aptitudes.

Definitely, I am starting an adventure full of passion, showing me that work done from your heart transforms into a totally new concept of work. So many things are changing; ways of perceiving life, starting from where the sunrise and where the sun sets.  

Fiesta Feast

Fiesta Feast

I had only been back in the Philippines for 1 week when I was invited to a local’s house for a fiesta feast! And the brilliant fact is that isn’t even unusual. A large part of the reason I fell in love with the Philippines when I first visited last year was definitely the people. They are among the friendliest and most generous I have ever met throughout my travels.

When I arrived in Dumaguete on the 5th of June I jumped on the first available trike with my life on my back and followed Reef World Programmes Manager Chloe to my new home by the beach. Instantly my trike driver Tony was my tour guide. He lived in our village so it quickly became routine for him to pick Jula (Reef World Intern) and I up and drive us to our office in the city. After just 1 week we were invited to his house on June 13thfor a special fiesta to celebrate San Antonio de Padua’s Feast day.

Baboy that's a big pig!
Baboy that's a big pig!

A proper Filippino fiesta has to have lechon and this one was no exception. For those of you who don’t know, lechon is basically a hog roast. The bigger the better! Tony was a true Filipino host, constantly plying us with food. Delicacies included lechon (obviously), rice (obviously), pineapple, coconut milk, cake and lots of San Miguel. If we ever managed to make it halfway through a drink or a plate of food it was quickly refilled and we were never allowed to be full!

Tony's friend Jean teaches me some useful Visayan
Tony's friend Jean teaches me some useful Visayan

Most of the afternoon was spent at Tony’s house eating food, meeting his extended family and trying to learn as much of the local language, Visayan, as possible. Once Jula and I were suitably stuffed we ventured out into the local municipality, Sibulan, to visit the fiesta market and the San Antonio de Padua Church. I hadn’t considered it a highly populated municipality until that moment. Thousands of people were milling around the market stalls and flocking to the church to pay homage to San Antonio. The sheer volume of people touching Jesus’ statue in prayer had literally rubbed his legs raw!

Green Fins Assessor Training

Green Fins Assessor Training

It was a wonderful day and a brilliant re-introduction to the Philippines. I cannot wait to hit the ground running as a Reef World Intern, sitting in on the Zoox Experience Programme and starting my Green Fins Assessor training.