Environmental Sustainability – An Interview With Bryan Madera, Environmental Advocate
29 year old Bryan Madera has already made an impact in the world of environmental sustainability, something that we all need to practice. Bryan was initially a Senior Wedding Coordinator for Boracay Weddings. He eventually followed his passion and earned a Masters Degree in Environmental and Natural Resources Management.
We interviewed Bryan to find out more about environmental sustainability, the projects he is part of, and what hospitality professionals can do to help preserve the environment.
RANGGO: When did you start becoming an environmental advocate?
Bryan: When I lived in Boracay, I saw how tourism can be an economic driver; however, in the case of Boracay, tourism compromises the environment as well. Coastal resources in particular. Our environment is the very resource we have that provides aesthetic services for tourism. Tourism in return gives livelihood and employment. There were many questions on my mind on how to intervene. I wanted to be part of the solutions and the voice of the voiceless – the environment. From this, I decided to further my studies and enrolled in Environmental and Natural Resources Management, majoring in Coastal Resources Management to become an Environmental and Natural Resources Manager.
RANGGO: What prompted you to become an Environmental and Natural Resources Manager?
Bryan: Boracay was my eye opener to coastal resource management–or mismanagement. Tourism can be a good thing as it brings jobs and livelihood, but the environment and biodiversity are paying the cost for this. Boracay in the ‘80s only had a few native bungalows catering to Western backpackers. In the past decade however, five-star hotels, condominiums, and restaurants have sprouted to cater to millions of tourists. In the ‘80s, there was more vegetation and biodiversity; today, there are more hotels and construction. It was a challenge to intervene. But this still could be prevented from happening in other tourist destinations.
RANGGO: What measures did you take to become the fully educated Environmental and Natural Resources Manager you are today? What credentials did you need to gain to become an expert in such matters?
Bryan: I studied Environmental and Natural Resources Management to learn the basic concepts, but I do not consider myself an expert yet. I also read research papers, watched video talks and documentaries, and enrolled in Massive Online Open Courses. I follow social media pages of NGOs, advocates, and agencies in my field. I attended programs and conferences related to my field for ideas and networking with the people on ground. During my travels, I take note of how destinations manage their tourism industry. I take note of the good practices and create strategies to address the detrimental practices, then I try to apply for funding to implement.
RANGGO: Why did you decide to join these specific groups? Can you give a description of each group?
Bryan: It was towards the end of my degree when I decided to apply what I have learned and learn from the people who are already working in the field as well.
I started as a volunteer for one month as a social media officer. I enrolled in an environmental advocacy course back then and have been trying to apply what I have learned.
Then I volunteered for the Sea and Earth Advocates (SEA) Camp in 2015. The SEA Camp aims to build the capacity of Filipino youth, ages 18-23, to be leaders in environmental conservation. It is a project of Save Philippine Seas, Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative (YSEALI), and the U.S. Embassy in the Philippines. I became the SEA Camp’s Project Manager in late 2015, and led SEA Camps held in Boracay, Zamboanga City, Subic, and Coron.
We will have SEA Camps next year, so follow our social media accounts to know how to apply.
TheLarge Marine Vertebrates Research Institute Philippines (LAMAVE) is the largest independent non-stock non-government organization dedicated to the conservation of marine megafauna and the marine environment in the Philippines. We strive for conservation through scientific research, policy and education.
I wanted to learn the impact of provisioning whale shark tourism to the ecology, biodiversity, economy, and society. Whale sharks are amazing creatures. I learned citizen science from this placement. Citizen science is a technique scientists use to employ the help of non-science persons. As an example, photos of the animals (e.g., marine turtles and whale sharks) taken by anyone (tourists, locals, non-scientists) could help researchers. Every whale shark or marine turtle has unique markings, similar to fingerprints of humans. I replicated the same technique to survey the population of marine turtles in Boracay.
The Save Sharks Network Philippines (SSNP) is a coalition of organizations in the Philippines’ scientific, NGO, and tourism communities. It was a collaboration with SPS, Greenpeace Philippines, and Marine Wildlife Watch Philippines. Sharks play an important role in our biodiversity. They are slow growing and catching them without regulation and monitoring is not sustainable. Sharks get killed for their fins to be turned into shark fin soup, for example. They are also killed for their skin, liver, and meat.
TheYoung Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative (YSEALI) is the U.S. government’s signature program to strengthen leadership development and networking in Southeast Asia. YSEALI provides opportunities to youth leaders. Some examples are regional workshops in ASEAN, seed funding for projects, and study exchange program in the United States.
I attended a few life changing programs hosted by YSEALI here and abroad. Together with other youth leaders, we won a grant toput in placet a workshop on sustainable tour guiding. YSEALI has four pillars – education, environment, civic engagement and economic development.
Plastic Battle (PB) aims to reduce or eliminate single-use plastic bottles at the source by engaging with business establishments, such as resorts, cafés, hostels, and restaurants, to provide people the option to refill reusable bottles for a fee or for free. The Philippines rank third in marine litter contribution globally, and prediction shows that there will more plastic than fish in the year 2050. This campaign aims to turn things around.
With the SPS team, we pioneered this project to minimize the single-use plastic waste in Siargao in partnership with SEA Movement. PB aims to promote refilling behavior by mapping out existing water refill stations in Siargao island. We encourage sellers to reduce or cut bottled water from their shelves, and provide water refill station accessible to guests.
RANGGO: How can people join these groups?
Bryan: We always emphasize that you don’t need to have a degree in science or join an organization to be involved in conservation. You can embrace reusable lifestyle and decrease the of single-use plastic items (bags, straw, utensils, water bottle). You can follow their page and learn from them. These organizations are source of ideas to sustainable lifestyle change.
Use your talent to promote sustainable lifestyle. If you are an artist or painter, make a mural. Graphic designer? Collaborate with these group to make infographics. Connect with other youth to make your community aware of the impact of plastic. Write or lobby to your policy makers. Ask them to ban plastic bags and promote reusable bags instead. Working in tourism? Inform your guests on how to enjoy tourism in a sustainable way.
You can also send photos of marine turtle, whale shark, rays, and other animal sightings to NGOs or groups who study and track them. This data is crucial for monitoring the population and creation of a management plan. The options on how to help and participate are limitless.
HOW INDIVIDUALS HELP WITH ENVIRONMENTAL SUSTAINABILITY
RANGGO: What do you think are the biggest threats to the environment today, in the Philippines, and in the world?
Bryan: Wildlife trafficking, marine litter, unsustainable development in tourism destination, unsustainable fishing, carbon emission and climate change. Also, tourism has affected wildlife trafficking. In some destinations, tourists demand for traditional cuisine. This encourages the locals to capture and sell endangered wildlife animals – marine turtles, shark fins.
Collectively, this is the result of how we perceive and utilize our natural resources. Lacking compassion for our environment is something we should change to be able to solve pressing marine issues.
RANGGO: What can ordinary people do to sustain the environment? Can you cite 10-15 everyday things that can be done?
- Unplug and go solar. Demand that the government shift from coal fired power plant to renewable energy. Use energy saving and efficient appliances and invest in solar panels in your home or business.
- Trace the source of your seafood. Support local fishers by buying the daily catch. Ask them how they catch the fish, and where. Did you know that some seafood, tuna and shrimp, in some countries are caught by slave labor? Also learn which species are protected so you won’t buy them.
- Bring reusable items and forget about single use items. Support green businesses that are reducing their single-use plastic waste – straws, cups, and utensils. Tell your friends about the impact of plastic and ask them to use reusable items.
- When travelling, follow and respect local laws and guidelines. It is good for your safety and will help you avoid venomous fish, corals, snakes, and the protection of the environment. Follow the established trails in the forest.
- Don’t buy souvenirs made from local wildlife, or turn wildlife into souvenirs. Shells, corals, and sand have important roles in our ecosystem. Leave them behind. Take photos instead.
- Don’t touch or remove marine animals, dead or alive. Take nothing but pictures. Kill nothing but time.
- Fast fashion industry is second polluter next to oil. Every time we wash our clothes, we could be washing off microfibers that reach the ocean. Buy a few pieces of quality clothes and basics that could last years and you can pair easily, instead of buying different clothes every season to follow trends.
- Don’t use products with microbeads. Microbeads are small plastic particles added to many of our personal care products to act as exfoliators. These beads are small enough to be filtered, and thus end up in our ocean. These microbeads are ingested by plankton, fish, shellfish, and other marine creatures that we end up in our plates. Plastics (like bags, straws) disintegrate and turn into microplastics as well, which are also ingested by a wide range of species. Alternatives to microbeads are just available in your kitchen, like coffee grounds and oats.
- Reduce your carbon footprint. Take a ferry or train instead of flying. Bike or carpool with friends and workmates instead of driving your own car for yourself alone. You are not only saving the environment, but also helping local businesses. Buy locally sourced items.
- Grow your own food. Use your backyard to plant vegetables or balcony for vertical gardening. You save money, and at the same time eat better.
HOW HOTELS AND RESTAURANTS CAN HELP WITH ENVIRONMENTAL SUSTAINABILITY
RANGGO: What can hotels and restaurants in general do to help preserve and save the environment, as well as educate their guests to do the same?
Bryan: Build your hotel while considering the impact to the environment. Minimize the reliance on single-use plastic items, such as plastic cups, straw, Styrofoam, and single-use sachet items. Serve only sustainable seafoods. Have your own waste water treatment or connect to one, use solar panels.
Tourism stakeholders should find the balance of environment, economy, and society. Tourists come to Philippines for its natural resources – white sand beaches and diving spots. If we do not take care of our natural resources, its aesthetic value decreases, which in turn will lower the interest of the tourist.
Employ the locals to deter them from illegal practices, such as poaching and deforestation.
Some initiatives done in the past by SPS/SEA Camp that can be employed in hotels to minimize single-use items:
Straws – Star Wars Ph
Sachet – Zero Sachet Ph
Water Bottles – Plastic Battle
Compliance on RA 9003 – Seayasat – they conduct waste audit in businesses
Hotels can email their guests before arrival to ask them not to bring sachets and disposable items. Furthermore, guests can also be encouraged to bring tumblers or water containers, as well as reef-friendly sunblock. Make the guests aware of the laws that protect the environment and the initiatives of the hotel. Recommend green businesses to the guests (tour operators who conduct proper protocol and value the environment.)
Quality tourism over mass tourism. Know the carrying capacity and limit of acceptable changes, specifically in island destinations. Consult with specialist on how your business can be sustainable even before construction starts.
Sustainability should not only be part of corporate social responsibility (CSR); it should also be integrated in the core of the tourism industry. The tourism sector should always remember that guests come for the authentic or natural experience.
WHY THE ENVIRONMENT IS IMPORTANT
RANGGO: Why do you think we need to save and preserve the environment?
Bryan: Our environment is our only life support system. It provides goods and services, such as the air we breathe, food we need to survive. Mangrove forests and coral reefs can minimize the effect of calamities that cause tsunamis or storm surges. Whatever we do to the environment will impact us in return. For example, if we continue to put up coal fired power plants, we pollute our air with carbon emission. Consequently, this creates global warming that aggravates typhoons.
RANGGO: Do you have any input on the correlation between environmental sustainability and tourism? How can we promote the 2 combined?
Bryan: Natural resources (clean beach, excellent coral cover, unpolluted water, sharks) are assets of tourism. When the beach gets polluted, corals are destroyed, sharks are killed, and the aesthetic value of our assets decline, this decreases the quality of our tourist spots.
Tourism stakeholders should use system-thinking approach. Increasing tourist arrivals do not only move one step forward, as expected by an increase in employment and revenue. Each action will have beneficial and adverse effects. It also affects economy, environment. and society.
Increasing tourist arrivals will increase the demand for transportation (e.g., boats). Boat traffic and or anchoring can destroy or damage the coral reefs. Poor coral reefs will decrease the aesthetic value of tourism. The increase of tourism will increase the demand for the seafood, this will cause imbalance to the environment and increase the cost of fish.
The increase in tourism will increase the demand of accommodation, therefore result in increasing construction works. An increase in construction is an increase in job opportunities, which leads to an increase in migration. The migration will increase the population. This in turn which will lead to more children. The population of the students per class will rise (ratio of students per teacher), therefore decreasing the value of education.
RANGGO: If you wish to share any more information to educate people please do so.
Bryan: Conservation is not a one day event or just part of a company’s CSR. We should integrate sustainability in our daily lifestyle. If we are in business sector, we should provide sustainable product/services.
Train your guides. Tour guides are front liners of tourism. They are the source of information for the tourists that play an important role for guests and the environment., hence they must protect the environment for sustainable tourism.
Check out some of our articles aimed at Environmental Sustainability:
The Sustainable September Challenge
Eco-Friendly Hotels; How your Hotel can be Green too