Saving our seas from a tempest of change

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IMAGINE waking up every morning after a restful night of slumber, greeted by the sound of chirping birds, a gust of the cool sea breeze and the gentle rustling of leaves from trees that partially shade your bedroom window.

Waking up to this view, taken from the beachfront of Urbiz Garden in San Juan, La Union, will always be a fascinating and energizing experience.

A few moments after, you find yourself joined by the company of people dearest to you, exchanging a hearty dose of laughter and stories while engaging in what could be a breakfast moment perfectly woven from out of a dream.

Without a doubt, these are the kinds of mornings a lot of people from Metro Manila will surely desire to no end, if only that image can instantly transform into reality that quick. Living by the sea has long been one of my fondest dreams, and I still hold myself to account to bring this goal into fruition in the future.

In all honesty, I’ve never met anyone who can ever resist the comforting lure of the sea. I, myself, have been in great awe of the grandness and the beauty of the world underwater. In fact, I recently rekindled by love affair with the sea when I took some time off during the holidays and escaped to Nusa Penida off Bali in Indonesia, and one of highlights of my trip there was actually a rendezvous with a family of manta rays.

Living by the sea has long been one of my fondest dreams, and I still hold myself to account to bring this goal into fruition in the future.

I remember the rush of excitement that came over me when I first laid my eyes on these majestic creatures—gentle marine giants who could grow as big as 7 meters (about 23 feet)—during a trip to the Galapagos a few years back. Underwater at Manta Point in Nusa Penida, I was in utter awe as I tried to keep perfectly still while these mantas “flew” above us like angels gliding in the water. I was ecstatic beyond words seeing them up close with my very own eyes. Hence, I will always look back at making the decision to dive as one of the best ones I have made in my life so far—my own personal milestone that has set me on a lifelong path for environmental advocacy.

Pawikan Guardians

This kind of passion and love for the environment is a proud attribute I share with the Pawikan Guardians of San Juan, La Union—a community of local folks advocating for the protection and preservation of our seas via the “La Union Soul Movement”, a sustainable tourism initiative for the “surfing capital of the North”.

“LU Soul” is the brainchild of a group of environment advocates, namely FEED Inc. (Fostering Education and Environment for Development, The Philippines), the Science of Identity Foundation Community Assistance for Responsible Existence (SIFCare) and Save Philippine Seas, among many others.

The project is aimed at designing and implementing a sustainable tourism marketing plan anchored on ecotourism and livelihood promotions for the entire province of La Union.

“The goal of LU Soul is really to keep the La Union coastline—the fifth-longest shoreline on the planet—alive,” said LU Soul lead, Feed Inc. Ambassador, and owner of Urbiz Garden in San Juan, Tina Antonio. “We fear that, in another two years, San Juan [in La Union] will be another Boracay, where tourist activities, all the loud booming music, the artificial lights and the developments that neglect environmental building codes, coupled with utter disregard for the environment, are causing a deluge of problems to the community, the environment, and the local biodiversity.”

Nature as an equalizer

For 2016, Tina and her partners held a series of events and programs aimed at educating locals and tourists about caring for the San Juan ecosystem, which is now being heavily impacted by pollution and human developments. This year, as we approach the tail-end of the much-celebrated turtle season (September to April)—that time of the year when the local pawikan, particularly the olive ridley sea turtle and the hawksbill sea turtle, end their excruciating journey at the shores of Urbiztondo to nest—the group has launched its latest initiative to help raise awareness about the sea turtles and engage neighboring communities to help save these precious sea turtles.

Researches will tell you that sea turtles play vital roles in helping spur continued progress in areas, like La Union, where the sea becomes a platform for environment and economic development. Sea turtles prey on jellyfish—including the stinging jellyfish—which are constant headaches for fisheries and the local marine tourism sector. They also act as primary grazers on seagrass beds and an important catalyst for dune vegetation on the shore, helping maintain the natural balance of marine and land ecosystems to help other organisms (fish, crabs, shrimps, trees, etc.) thrive and support communities that rely on the sea for food and livelihood.

Recently, La Union locals sounded the alarm following the news of Thai hospitality company—Dusit International’s plans to put up a Malibu-inspired hotel at Barangay Panisican in San Juan.

“This is a fact that I’m worried about, but something that I honestly see as an opportunity for these big investors to build mindfully, and for companies with the heart for Corporate Social Responsibility to protect a shoreline that is still brimming with life,” Antonio shared. “Hence, we’re calling for more guardians to rally behind our cause. After all, protecting a part of our fragile seas is impossible for a handful of martyrs. To keep our beach alive, we need the help of as many advocates as we can get.”

Image Credits: Sea Turtle Conservancy/Ralph Pace on IG, Katrina Tapang



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