Legend regales us with tales of mermaids: mythical sea creatures that were half women and half fish; usually depicted as lovely creatures combing their long beautiful locks, singing on rocks, and luring ill-fated sailors to their untimely demise.
However dangerous mermaids were portrayed in myths, the lovely maiden of sea taking center stage in this article is no deadly sea creature: championing the rights of the sea is Chief Mermaid of marine conservation organization Save Philippine Seas, Anna Oposa.
Having been chosen as one of the Chevening scholars for this academic year, Anna moved to the UK in September 2014 to pursue her MSc in Conservation Science at Imperial College London. Although she claims that her life in London is very different from her life back at home in the Philippines, she still lives a very productive and well-rounded lifestyle.
Anna is currently juggling classes and school work, training for her first half marathon, doing research work for the Asian Development Bank Youth Initiative, and working as Project Director for the SEA Camp of Save Philippine Seas. She bikes to and from school as well. So we can safely say that, Anna has the multitasking abilities of an octopus.
Diving into Marine Conservation
Anna says that environmental advocacy was not something she had always wanted to pursue. “It was a series of events that led to my work,” Anna claims. She was exposed to environmental issues at an early age because her dad is an environmental lawyer.
In college, Anna participated in a cleanup dive, where she saw so much trash, it inspired her to co-found a waste management program in UP called “ICU (Isko Cleans UP)” with her best friend, Kester. But the real deal breaker was the “rape of the Philippine seas” issue in 2011, when poachers killed over 160 endangered sea turtles and harvested over 21,000 pieces of black coral (the volume indicated that the damaged area could be as big as 7,000 hectares). This ultimately set her work into motion.
Having a knack for wordplay and puns, this Ms. A-to-Z took up English Studies in UP, which taught her how powerful words can be. Anna says that the analogies and puns she injects in talks she’s given help make “marine conservation seem less daunting and more, well, punny.”
Persistence, Hard Work, and Humility
These three qualities are what Anna considers crucial for success in any field. Growing up with a “family of heroes” has taught her a lot about integrity, hard work, and principles.
And while she may be one of our heroines, this mermaid has her own set of heroes when it comes to the environment. Anna also looks up to Vince Cinches of Greenpeace, AA Yaptinchay of Marine Wildlife Watch of the Philippines, and Dennis Bait-it of Sharklink. “The way they are so resilient, persistent, and positive about the work we do has been my source of inspiration and strength,” Anna says of them.
As an advocate, Anna has struggled to find funding conservation projects, manage the people who dedicate their time and energy to her cause, create awareness about the issues she’s most passionate about, and get support for her advocacy. Though she deals with these bumps and boulders in the road, she says the upsides to being a “Chief Mermaid” make it worth it.
“I get to do everything I love and use skills that I have. I get to travel a lot and learn about different fields, and I get to work with some of the most inspiring people. There’s never a boring day, really.” If that’s not a dream job, we don’t know what is.
“Seas the Day!”
Anna has a lot of achievements under her belt, she’s held a slew of leadership roles unusual in someone so young, and she’s got a charming personality to boot, but she still remains humble and holds steadfast to her many dreams, most of which, she says, are “tied to my dreams for the Philippines.”
She wants to regain the splendor and make known the Philippines’ rich marine biodiversity, and that is exactly what she stands and works for. Anna says that by committing to simple lifestyle changes and being more environmentally conscious, anyone can be a modern day hero for the environment.
Her advice for women wanting to pursue the same field? “Work hard, don’t ever let your being a woman or age hinder you from pursuing what you want, and stop making excuses, because every excuse is a choice to fail. Seas the day!”
All hail the Chief Mermaid! Stay amazing and continue inspiring.
All photos provided by Anna Oposa.