Growing up in Cebu, Philippines, Anna Oposa went on her first dive at the age of 15, where she saw rainbow-colored clownfish, anemones, frogfish and seahorses. “There is so much life and beauty down there,” she said.
Three years later, she saw a completely different view of the ocean when she volunteered for a reef cleanup. Fishing out plastic bags, straws, and even the occasional diaper, “suddenly, I saw the sea not just as a playground, but also as a home that needed to be protected,” she said.
Oposa decided to do something about the problem. She helped start, grow and inspire what would become Save Philippine Seas. Now 28, she’s been the executive director since the group was founded in 2011. She refers to herself as the organization’s “chief mermaid.”
The organization’s chief projects are:
- Shark Shelter, to protect rare thresher sharks from fishing on Malapascua Island. The program helped establish the country’s first shark and ray sanctuary in 2015.
- SEA Camps, to inspire young people 18–23 to be leaders in environmental conservation. The initiative has been so successful, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry spent a morning with campers, learning about ideas like “Screen Your Sunscreen,” one student’s campaign to promote reef-safe sunblock products.
- Pawikan Watchers, to train local and international volunteers on the biology and ecology of sea turtles and government-approved guidelines for handling sea turtles.
Oposa credits her positive attitude for much of her success: “Ocean optimism is in my DNA.”
“The Philippines has so many success stories of people working together to bring back healthy marine ecosystems,” Oposa said. “If we take care of the sea, it will take care of us.”
What can you do?
- Make sure the food you eat is sustainable.
- Shop with a reusable bag.
- Carry a nondisposable water bottle.
- Skip the straws — plastic debris hurts ecosystems and shows up everywhere.
- Take time to connect, and reconnect, with the environment.
Anna Oposa is one of the ocean leaders at the Our Ocean conference in Washington from September 15 to 16. Share what you are doing to protect the ocean at #1KOceanActions, and you could be featured at Our Ocean, too!