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Deeply Determined: Chief Mermaid Anna Oposa

Anna Oposa does not back down from challenges. She knows how to ask the hard and important questions. She does not waste time. As our generation faces a daunting climate emergency, the Executive Director-- often called the Chief Mermaid-- behind the Save Philippine Seas (SPS) movement is a blessing to change-making.

Earlier this month, we witnessed Anna’s inspirational work in the Sustainability and Marine Biodiversity Workshop for business owners and stakeholders in Siargao Island. The biodiversity workshop, which was a joint project between SPS and Globe myBusiness, identified best practices for businesses to be more sustainable while doing more for the protection and preservation of the ocean.

The road to becoming a full-time mermaid

A storyteller at heart, Anna graduated with a degree in BA English Studies from the University of the Philippines - Diliman where she graduated cum laude. In 2011, about the same time that she submitted her thesis, a massive illegal wildlife trade case involving the decimation of an entire coral reef complex off the coast of Cotabato made headlines, caught her attention, and changed the course of her career forever. She found herself becoming the lead storyteller in the social media campaign against the illegal harvesting of corals and hunting of endangered sea turtles and other marine life. And so, with her way with words and her emotionally driven dedication, she founded Save Philippine Seas and has not slowed down since.

In her commitment to conservation, Anna took up a Mastera's Degree in Conservation Science at the Imperial College London. She worked as an event host, project manager, copywriter, researcher, and journalist so she could fund her conservation work “on the side.”

“After my Master’s, I promised myself that I’d focus on conservation because I believed in SPS’s potential to grow,” says Anna. “It was a scary, difficult, and frustrating time. Actually, it still is.”

Anna shares how fundraising is a constant challenge for conservation work. “Every year, I have major anxiety attacks about raising funds for SPS and worrying if we’ll [have funds so we can] continue to exist for another year.”

The challenges are magnified when mixed with government bureaucracy-- which Anna refers to as “bureau-crazy.” She cites one example: taking public school kids snorkeling in a marine protected area in the vicinity of their homes took up to 8 levels of approval from the municipality. “The change we want to see takes years, a lot of patience, and a lot of hard work. Getting people to care is a constant challenge.” Fortunately for SPS, Anna is not one to shy away from a good challenge.

Success stories

With an empowered community behind Anna, SPS soon became the most actively recognized platform for “seatizens” to fight potential environmental threats-- and win.

When Coron, Palawan was set to become the location of a Sponge Bob-themed resort park, Anna and her troops used social media to campaign against the development using the trending hashtag: #CoronIsNotBikiniBottom.

They rallied their forces again when Okada Manila announced that they were going to beat the Guinness World Record for balloon drops by releasing 130,000 latex balloons to welcome the new year. SPS went full throttle online and raised enough awareness and outrage against the solid waste management disaster waiting to happen.

“Our environmental education programs now collectively have over 500 alumni who have higher environmental awareness and positive environmental behavior change,” Anna shares. “Organizations we’ve worked with [such as Kudo Surf] have begun integrating sustainable practices in their operations.”

Keeping your head above the water 

It can be easy to fall into the trap of laziness and disinterest especially when the problems you face are larger than life. Despite battling anxiety attacks and other sacrifices, Anna manages to “just keep swimming” and enable others to do so as well.

When asked about her secret to staying strong and consistent, she shares a wonderful, eye-opening truth.

“This may sound counterintuitive but one of the secrets to staying strong and consistent is to allow yourself not to be strong and consistent every now and then. I’ve learned-- the hard way-- that it’s okay to be vulnerable, to say no to certain opportunities, and to admit that you are tired, sad, and need rest.”

The sage of the sea also adds that it is important to have a sense of humor. It turns out that Anna is quite the master of making puns. (She ends her emails with “Best fishes,”)

And if all else fails, make sure you have a support system that won’t.

For the future of the sea

When asked about her end goal for Save Philippine Seas, she boldly declares: “I see SPS as a platform for seatizens to be a voice for the sea, because each of us is. I am working toward a future where SPS becomes irrelevant.”

To create lasting change, one must have longevity. And to last in an industry where uncertainty, apathy, misinformation, and greed are among your largest enemies, it is imperative to seek encouragement and help from the right groups and organizations. Anna emphasizes the importance of doing your research so you can identify which groups can help you based on your objectives.

All change-makers must first ask themselves if what they want to accomplish can be done on their own, and with the resources that they have. Should a task be too big for you to handle alone, you can reach out to others who may have a wider network of people and funding. For this, Anna shares a valuable tip: “Approach groups and organizations with a clear ask-- this makes the proposal and process more efficient for everyone!”

But before we get ahead of ourselves, we must first dive deep into our own lives and see which parts we can act upon to influence positive change, especially for the environment. The Chief Mermaid urges you to open your eyes, but most importantly, open your heart.

“You’ll be surprised at how much positive change you can already make on your own!”

Stay updated with the Chief Mermaid’s world-saving agenda by following her at @annaoposa on Instagram. Want to become an eco-warrior? Get in touch with @savephseas!

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