The oceans and the global climate are inextricably connected.

 
Oceans serve as a major heat and carbon sink while also bearing the brunt of climate change, as evidenced by ocean warming, acidification, sea-level rise, and coral bleaching, among others.
 
Thus, we are joining the nationwide observance of Month of the Ocean, which aims to highlight the importance of conservation, protection, and sustainable management of Philippine coastal and marine resources.
 
To support this initiative, we reached out to Climate Reality Leader Christine Paula Love Bernasor, a passionate advocate of community empowerment, sustainability, and marine protection, to talk about the role of healthy oceans in sustainable development, the need to empower coastal communities to adapt to the impacts of climate change, and the urgency of addressing ocean plastic pollution.
 
In this #Realitalk feature, Paula also shared with us the inspiration behind the digital movement Ocean Love Philippines , which aims to highlight the wonders of our oceans and the issues it faces through creative storytelling.
 
Our conversation with Paula inspires us even more to get more involved in conversations and movements toward ocean conservation and marine protection.
 

The United Nations declared 2021-2030 as the decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development to harness, stimulate, and  coordinate research efforts on the ocean, to support the delivery of the information, action and solutions needed to achieve the  2030 agenda for sustainable development. How  does a healthy ocean contribute to sustainable development?

 

Paula: When people ask me how important healthy oceans are to our future, I ask one simple question: “How much do you love oxygen?”

We simply cannot exist without healthy oceans. Our very existence relies greatly on it. From the water we drink to the mangroves that protect us, we are inseparable. 

Oceans make up 70% of our planet. That means about half of the world’s population is coastal. Global economies rely greatly on our oceans.

As a global and shared resource, oceans are our lifeblood to a sustainable world. 

The oceans and the global climate are inextricably connected. How are climate change impacts affecting coastal communities in the country? How are our coastal communities coping?

 

Paula: Coastal communities face the brunt of climate change first. When typhoons hit, they are usually the  ones experiencing it first. We have witnessed the recent destruction brought by Typhoon Goni to coastal communities, such as Batangas and Catanduanes. 

Several coastal communities have been displaced as we face stronger typhoons. Fishing communities now have to deal with lower fish catch.

Ocean acidification has greatly affected the health of coral reefs. Coral reefs are likely to degrade rapidly over the next 20 years, presenting fundamental challenges for the millions of Filipinos who derive food, income, coastal protection, and a range of other services from coral reefs. Unless rapid advances to the goals of the Paris Climate Change Agreement occur over the next decade, more people are likely to face increasing amounts of poverty and social disruption and regional insecurity. 

Sadly, only a few cities and towns are seriously working on this issue. Some communities have worked on planting more mangroves, which is a good carbon sink and provides protection from water surges. Others  have partnered with non-profit organizations such as OCEANA and RARE Philippines in different projects to deal with decreasing fish catch, monitor their marine protected areas, and get more stakeholders involved in the issue. 

"We need more sustainable grassroots projects that help these coastal communities educate more of their members and create a reward system for those who are creating sustainable solutions."
PAULA BERNASOR

Coastal communities must be empowered to adapt to the impacts of climate change. What support should the government and other stakeholders provide coastal communities?

 

Paula: The It is heartbreaking to know how little budget is allocated to marine protection and climate change. Our government should prioritize creating a national budget for surveying, creating, maintaining, and protecting marine protected areas, as well as creating long-term solutions for coastal communities that are most vulnerable to climate change. 

It is utterly mind-boggling how most local governments are spending a lot on extravagant festivals while barely allocating anything to nurture marine protected areas or to empower coastal community leaders.

They should create programs that advocate more sustainable businesses that support our local fishermen and encourage citizen science.

The government needs to strengthen communication and collaboration among its agencies that can help these communities.

We need more sustainable grassroots projects that help these coastal communities educate more of  their members and create a reward system for those who are creating sustainable solutions.

Coastal communities should not be left to fend for themselves and only get meager assistance when the damage is done. The government needs to take a more preventive stance on climate change. 

Several studies have revealed that the Philippines is one of the worst ocean plastic polluters in the world. How does plastic pollution affect life in the ocean and eventually life on land?

 

 Paula: We need to think about how many of us love consuming seafood or going to the beach. Now, imagine if all the fish we ate have plastics inside. Imagine popular beach spots like Palawan, Siargao, or all the nice beach spots getting covered with sachets. It is such a depressing thought, but it is happening.

One 2019 report  from the Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives (GAIA), which I found quite disturbing, said that Filipinos produce more than 163 million plastic sachet packets, 48 million shopping bags, and 45 million thin-film bags daily.

As one of the countries heavily reliant on the fishing and tourism industries, it affects us greatly. We are not only poisoning our water source and food but also our source of income. 

"We, the consumers and voters, need to take back our power and start calling the shots on how we want our products to be."
PAULA BERNASOR

Recycling alone cannot solve marine pollution. We need to demand systemic change. What can we do to demand accountability and action from corporate polluters and the government?

 

Paula: People need to start realizing that recycling is nothing but a band aid solution. We need to solve the problem at its source.

How many clothes made from plastics are still being produced daily? How many cities and municipalities still have not shifted to follow the zero-waste lifestyle?

We, the consumers and voters, need to take back our power and start calling the shots on how we want our products to be. 

I always hear excuses about us not having a say on how products are packaged or distributed but we do. We can do a lot to change things. 

We can start by supporting companies that support sustainability. We can use social media hype against companies who continue to contribute to the plastic problem. We can start or join events that create audits on the top companies contributing to plastic pollution. We can cut down on consuming single-use products. Every peso can be used as a vote for a  more sustainable future, we need to make everyone count. 

Tell us more about the movement you started, Ocean Love Philippines. What are its goals and how do you envision it to help save our oceans?

 
Paula: Ocean Love Philippines is a digital movement dedicated to highlighting the wonders of our oceans and the issues it faces through creative storytelling. This started out of a frustration that we rarely see anything about our oceans on popular social media sites.
 

Our goal is to share stories about our oceans that will remind people about the beauty it has on a deeper level. We want more Filipinos to love our oceans and fight for them. We want to make ocean conservation cool (#trendy) and not cumbersome or boring. 

Our vision is to be one of the top sources of information and inspiration on marine conservation, where Filipinos can find and discover new things about our oceans and take action to help protect our oceans.