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#SeatizenSunday: Marja Abad, Siargao Environmental Awareness Movement

Siargao has been making waves through headlines and increasing tourist arrivals. With the popularity comes several threats to its natural environment, evident in the increasing volume of litter. The Siargao Environmental Awareness Movement (SEA Movement, or SEAM), a group of volunteers "trying to keep Siargao clean and green," is working double time to ensure that Siargao doesn't follow the fate of our other island destinations.

At frontline of S.E.A Movement is Marja Abad, who traces her environmentalism from her elementary and high school education in Miriam College. “We were fined when we didn’t segregate trash properly,” she recalled. In college, Marja studied BS Social Work, where she’d go to a day care center in Payatas to teach teachers a Read-Aloud-Program for children. “Seeing a community literally living on garbage made me wonder how it reached to that stage and how it could be prevented.”

Many years later, she’s still answering that question through her actions.

Tell us about what led you to do your work.

I was a member of the U.P. Mountaineers, which taught me the Leave No Trace Principle. I have been backpacking, rock climbing, bouldering, and surfing around the Philippines with that principle since I was in college. Being an outdoor adventurer and surfer also molded me to become environmentally conscious. To fuel my wanderlust, I moved to Davao after UP Diliman days and worked as a river rafting guide and photographer. Being in nature strengthens my bond with the environment. I don’t want to destroy my playground.

I worked in Singapore for 5 years as ground stewardess at a premium airline lounge and taught yoga on the side. When I went back to Siargao for a visit, I met my current partner, James, and he offered me a job at Kudo Surf. He helped me start S.E.A. Movement by just believing in my vision, supporting my projects and reminding me that it’s going to work.

Tell us about your current work.

I’m the Managing Director of Kudo Surf, a surf brand that holds sustainability and community at its core. We strive to be fully sustainable by opting for eco-friendly fabric like organic cotton and rashguard materials made from recycled plastic bottles and ocean waste in our collection of surf apparels. As the Managing Director of the company, I’m leading the direction of the brand to do two things: to protect the ocean and to surf epic waves.

Living in Siargao gave birth to S.E.A Movement. I have been coming to the island since 2006 and I’ve seen the drastic changes. The most evident is the amount of trash littered on the street and the beach, which would end up in the landfill or the ocean. What I really wanted in the beginning was just a public library for kids to go to and develop a love for reading and learning. But it was hard to get a land and build something, so I just started beach clean-ups with kids, then my friends saw it, so they [started doing] their [own] bit in other ways. That’s how S.E.A. Movement started. It’s all labor of love that I try to squeeze in my busy schedule.

My typical day is waking up before 5AM to surf. On weekdays, I’m usually in the office 9:30am-4pm for my day job at Kudo. I spend one weekday and Saturdays for S.E.A. Movement. Both jobs are making me very busy, checking emails, leading the team, planning and executing projects. I only stop when it’s time to surf, eat, or sleep.

What’s the best and worst parts about your job?

I love my job, but not all jobs are perfect. I love everything I’m doing for S.E.A. Movement. The best part is when I see the kids learning what is taught to them, and seeing more and more people supporting the cause. It gives me hope.

The negatives are actually also good. SEAM is growing so fast and it’s just harder for me to manage. There are so many projects in line, and I feel a bit sad I can’t give as much time as I want to because of my busy work at Kudo Surf. To cope with this, we hired an executive assistant and interns (BS Environmental Science graduates) who are helping me with my SEAM projects. Eventually, they will be the one running the org as they gain more experience and confidence.

Another challenge to to keep volunteers and sustain projects. Since it’s free labor, I just rely on the volunteer’s availability and donors’ donations. I really hope that one day, SEAM will be self-sustaining and be able to pay a good wage to its staff who can work full-time for the organization. If things go well, the livelihood project and SEAM the brand can power this growing group and continue making environmental projects on the island.

Post-clean up smiles

What can people do to help your cause?

Be responsible tourists when visiting Siargao and responsible local residents by joining beach clean-ups, refusing single-use plastic, not littering, and opting for a plant-based diet. They can also buy SEAM merchandise to help us raise funds for operations and projects. They can also tag SEAM in their social media posts @s.e.a.movement and use the hashtag #jointhemovement so we can keep widening our network and reach.

What 3 pointers would you provide for people who'd like to start seriously pursuing an environmental lifestyle?

-Practice what you preach

-Read, read, and read more about environmental issues and solutions

-Taking care of your health is taking care of the environment

Fun fact about the environment or a species that you think people should know

One of the leading causes of global warming is cow fart.

What is your why - why you do what you do?

Because if I don’t do it, who else will?

What do you do to unwind?

Surfing and skating with the big and small groms (kids who surf)

What advice would you give your 18-year-old self?

Choose your partner very carefully and surround yourself with good and quality people.

Like S.E.A. Movement on Facebook and follow them on Instagram at @s.e.a.movement.

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