Life in conservation (1st of four parts)

On Thursday, October 7, my life’s page turns 58 years old, and looking back, more than half of it, 32 years to be exact, had been solely devoted to various facets of conservation work here in the country and, to a certain extent, on a global front. If I had an option to rewind all those years, no doubt, conservation work would still be the better option for me in spite of its numerous challenges – both rewarding and fulfilling, but sometimes also frustrating and exhausting.

During all those years, I realized that working for conservation is not just a career to pursue, but it is more of a commitment, mission, and passion to make a positive difference for nature and people, little as it may, either working in government or nongovernment institutions, individually or collectively, and locally or internationally. After all, conservation is, in fact, a way of life, as conservation matters all the time for all people from different walks of lives regardless of nationality, race, gender, religion, culture, ideology and beliefs. How did it all start from my end?

I was born and spent my childhood days in a logging concession in the southern part of Negros Occidental. I grew up in grade school witnessing, not only the cutting of large trees, but also the clearing of forest, too, and I thought then it was just part of the economic activity. On one hand, it was also the period when I started to appreciate the marvelous beauty of jungles, and where a foggy ambience early and late in the day usually enveloped the mountain slopes and terrains.

I heard assorted voices of birds and other wildlife along with the sound of flowing freshwater from streams and rivers and wind from different directions blowing the branches and leaves of trees. In many instances, dew was even dripping in the ceiling of our house, and the cold days of December were real.

As a growing child, I did not comprehend and understand the complexity of exploiting our natural resources, like forests, and the need to conserve them. With the vast forests surrounding the place where we lived, I imagined that it was fine to cut them, as they seemed to be everywhere and could last forever. I started to realize that there was something wrong when we moved out from the concession, simply because, according to my father, the trees viable for commercial logging started to dwindle in the area.

We then settled in a coastal area of Barangay Bulata in Cauayan, where I spent most of my time during school breaks, summer vacations, and holiday season. At that time, I was already in secondary school. Our place had an awesome and panoramic view of the Sulu Sea from afar and the gorgeous nearby islands known to us before as PuloGamay and PuloDaku. PuloGamay is the Agutayan Island and PuloDaku is what is now the famous Danjugan Island, both within the coastal waters of Bulata.

It was there in Bulata where I enjoyed the calmness and freshness of the sea and discovered underwater marvels. The coastal waters in between the mainland and two islands were my “swimming pool”. It was in the surrounding waters of the two islands where I discovered the fantastic underwater life forms. Of course, it was more about appreciating the beauty of nature than realizing how important it is as a support system for our lives.

The ecosystem and ecosystem services were nowhere to be found in my vocabulary then. What comes to mind when I recall those days in our coastal community were the bounties from the sea. My father partnered with a long-time fisherman in Bulata to establish a “tangkup” or fishfence. On some occasions, I joined when it was time to collect assorted species of fish trapped in the tangkup. It was a delight to see a volume of fish catch hauled through a net to the boat. I also witnessed instances when a school of dilis or “guno” swarmed over the shallow water, and the fisherfolk, bringing with them their “sahid” or fishnets, trapped the guno and went home with “banyera” of fish catch.

Meanwhile, it was also in Bulata where I was exposed to a nearby mining site that we called “Mina” in Barangay San Jose, Sipalay. I found it a lucrative industry as I saw well-maintained, lovely, and uniformed bungalow houses provided by the mining company to its employees who were also enjoying a good life. However, it was a picture of destruction, too, when mountains were bulldozed for open pit mining. There was one point in time when I entertained the idea of taking up mining engineering in college, but such course was not available in Bacolod or anywhere in Negros Occidental.

My childhood and teenage life provided me a solid backdrop when I realized the dynamics of management and governance when it comes to our environment and natural resources. It was in college in the early 80s when my curiosity and awareness about the environment heightened when I was involved in student activism during the presidency of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos Sr.* (To be continued)

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