Gela wanted to be a sports doctor, but ended up studying environmental science after not getting accepted into her first choice, BS Biology. What seemed like a setback turned out to be the waves of life bringing her to another direction: Gela fell in love with the ocean while studying coral reefs in Mabini, Batangas for her thesis. Her love and concern for the ocean grew as she learned more about it. To pursue and share her advocacy of marine conservation and fisherfolk empowerment, Gela created the skin diving organization ISDA in Ateneo de Manila University in 2011.
After graduation, Gela’s work as a researcher led her to many fishing communities. In 2013, she began a friendship with the community of Barangay San Andres, Isla Verde, Batangas City. Even when Gela moved to a solar energy company, where she would work for three years, she continued pursuing personal projects for Brgy. San Andres. In October 2015, Batang VIP (Verde Island Passage) was born.
Tell us about what led you to do your work.
Batang VIP began with a crowdfunded fieldtrip on October 4, 2015 that brought 84 elementary school kids from the island to the Mind Museum in Taguig, where the Verde Island Passage was featured then as “The Epicenter of Marine Biodiversity in the World.” I wanted the kids to know it, own it, be proud of where they live, and hopefully take better care of it as its next caretakers. I only wanted it to be a project name but, little did I know, it would become a chain of fisherfolk empowerment projects.
In 2015, I also wanted to start up Reef Nomads fulltime. Reef Nomads is a skin diving tour group that teaches the skill of diving in one breath for recreation, and organizes local trips in order to expose more people to the beauty of our reefs and fishing communities. I wanted to build a tribe of ocean lovers who care for things and people beyond themselves through fun educational experiences.
I chickened out and only got to submit my resignation letter when my Lola, who I love to the moon and back, got diagnosed with breast cancer on December 15, 2015. I wanted to work at home to spend more time with her and look after her. Reef Nomads became my means to pay the bills and pursue my passion projects in Batang VIP.
Tell us about your current work.
I manage the operations and marketing of Reef Nomads and do project coordination and crowdfunding for Batang VIP from home, usually from Monday to Friday, about 2-10pm. On Saturdays and Sundays, I am either teaching in a deep pool, taking people out to sea for Reef Nomads or helping Barangay San Andres in Isla Verde operate community-based tourism through a series of capacity-building workshops, trainings, and meetings.
Gela teaching about the marine environment
What’s the best and worst parts about your job?
The best part of my job is that I am passionate about it.
I learned that negativity will always be there to taunt you, but you have to be stronger and choose to fight it every day to stay sane. Life is short, so we have to keep thinking only of things that matter and ignore the smaller things that waste our time and energy.
What 3 pointers would you provide for people who'd like to start seriously pursuing an environmental lifestyle?
Understand what you’re doing and why you’re doing it.
Practice what you believe in and do it as religiously as you can.
Speak with love and never talk down on those who do not get it yet that you are living a more sustainable lifestyle not for “the environment,” but for lives beyond your own, including theirs.
Fun fact about a species that you think people should know.
The mantis shrimp has the best set of eyes in the animal kingdom. It can see 360 degrees and times nine of the spectrum of colors humans can. Never touch it because it can pack a punch so fast it emits a spark of light—the force easily breaking the likes of aquarium glass.
What is your why - why you do what you do?
I want to give justice to the life given to me.
If you weren’t doing what you were doing, what would you do/pursue?
I would probably be a Sports Doctor helping injured athletes get back up.
What can people do to help your cause?
Skin dive, explore the beauty of our seas, and join our expeditions to meet our warm fishing communities. We patronize local services to help increase their average monthly income of only P5000. Also, follow Batang VIP on Facebook to stay updated on our projects and whenever we call for any form of help.
Check out Reef Nomads’ Facebook page to learn more about how you can join their events. Visit the Batang VIP page to find out how you can contribute to their cause.