Growing up, Dave Albao wanted to be a scientist. He studied in a science high school and fell in love with biology and the natural sciences.
His life took a different turn when he applied for a highly-coveted science course in college and did not get accepted, leading him to journalism, film, and multimedia arts. He then dove deep into Buddhism and lived in temples and monasteries for four years. “The science I sought to understand met with the spirituality that would give it meaning,” Dave explains.
But nature called in the form of Danjugan Island, and Dave followed. Now he serves as the Executive Director of the Philippine Reef and Rainforest Conservation Foundation, Inc. (PRRCFI), which manages Danjugan Island. He isn’t quite the scientist experimenting with test tubes as he imagined he’d be, but the seas and coasts are his "laboratory" now.
Tell us about what led you to do your work.
When I left the monastic life, I wanted to use my skills in multimedia in developing content and design for biodiversity conservation and sustainable development. I wanted to tell the world how we need nature, and how we are a part of nature. This path led me to the work I am doing now for the Philippine Reef and Rainforest Conservation Foundation Inc. (PRRCFI) and Danjugan Island. It was when a friend, who I met as my biologist trainer as a junior zookeeper and who I later recognized as a kindred spirit, Kaila Ledesma Trebol, invited me to Danjugan and made me realize I wanted to work in conservation full-time. The island called me, and I am married to him now.
Tell us about your current work.
My role as Executive Director is to carry through the vision and mission of the conservation nonprofit NGO I work for. I also manage day-to-day operations of our Foundation, especially the tourism program of Danjugan Island. On the island, I would wake up between 5 to 8, make a cup of coffee and bring it on my hike to our island office where there is mobile reception. My schedule would change if I am in the city or traveling for the more “corporate” kind of work. It also changes so often, as I have to attend many functions, representing my organization and the work we do.
I also get to be invited to speak in or facilitate events for conservation around the country, and I love to travel to these places to learn more how we can sustain and improve our work. I always try to make it a point to see the sunset; I feel it is our natural design to stop, breathe and lovingly look at the horizon as day turns to night (or vice versa). This is my time for meditation or yoga (and TBH, the occasional wine).
My favorite night activities are (1) to watch a natural “fireworks” show of dancing fireflies, bioluminescent plankton in the water, and stars (and meteors!) at the sky, also reflected at the surface of the water, all glittering at the same time, and (2) to trek on the moonlit Coconut Crab Trail finding the amazing ancient creatures it was named after.
What are the best and worst parts about your job?
I love what I do, and I get to do the things that I love. I can go snorkeling or diving more often. I get to work in and travel to breathtaking places. I get to meet inspiring people and kindred spirits. During some bad days, I either feel frustrated or cynical when it seems people cannot work together for a shared sustainable future. On the other bad days, I am physically and emotionally exhausted. This kind of job is integrated into personal life, so things at work could deeply affect me. I overcome these moments with meditation, and the support of my colleagues and mentors.
What can people do to help your cause?
People can practice environmentalism every day. Doing our personal best to live daily to the ideals of a zero-waste, low-impact, carbon-neutral life, can and will make a difference. If some of us are policy-makers and leaders, we can affect more changes in a wider scale. But how do we get inspired to practice everyday? “We need nature, and we are a part of it” – when we truly recognize this in our heart, our practice will follow.
People can give great support to PRRCFI’s work by coming to experience Danjugan Island as a guest in our nature tourism program, by registering as a participant in our Marine and Wildlife Camps, or by donating through merchandise purchases. Follow @danjuganisland on Facebook and Instagram to know more about these. I highly recommend the Marine and Wildlife Camps (check the video on our FB!).
I co-founded Hamsa Earth-Conscious Collections, with Climate Reality Leader Kath Salimbagat and SEA Camp alumna Angel Rodriguez. Hamsa is a social enterprise that encourages people to switch to reusable straws, cloth pads, bamboo toothbrushes, and similar products. One way to reduce our impact to the planet is to use products that generate less waste. People can see our collections at FB/IG @hamsa.earth.consciousness.
Dave with his teammates after a cleanup
What three pointers would you provide for people who'd like to start seriously pursuing an environmental lifestyle?
Find activities that allow you to nurture your connection to nature, and enjoy doing them often. It may be meditation, yoga, or snorkeling, hiking, diving, birdwatching, photography, art, or even just growing your own malunggay, or choosing to walk at the park.
Avoid disposable or single-use products. Bring your own reusable straws, utensils, containers, tumblers; these are now pretty common.
Fun fact about the environment or a species that you think people should know.
If the Earth’s history of 4.6 billion years was compressed into 24 hours, our species Homo sapiens appeared less than two minutes before midnight. Dinosaurs appeared between 10-11pm, and sea turtle species before the dinosaurs. Shark species have been on Earth even longer than the sea turtles. Understanding the scale of geologic time will blow your mind, especially when you also know that the Industrial Revolution just happened recently (meaning it is just a second in the 24-hour Earth’s history) and the invention of the modern plastic even more recently during the World War II. These make us reflect what our brief time on this planet has done.
What is your why - why you do what you do?
I breathe air, I drink water, and I eat the fruits of the Earth.
Follow Dave on Instagram @dave.albao. Learn more about Danjugan Island through their website or Instagram account @danjuganisland, and purchase reusable alternatives from Hamsa Earth-Consciousness Collections through Facebook or Instagram @hamsa.earth.consciousness