Learning From Laura, LU's marine biologist
Written by GDS
"Water time" for surfers is not just about getting the perfect ride. Much of surfing is spent paddling for position followed by periods of being parked on your board while waiting for an incoming swell. Moments of lingering from one wave to the next give you a subtle taste of what life is in the grander scheme of things. You simply can’t help but come face to face with the reality of how small our existence is in comparison to the vastness of the sea.
If you surf in San Juan often, you’ve probably met Laura. She is one of the many surfers at The Point during the North Swell season. Her adulation for the sea is magnified by her career as a Marine Biologist. Receiving an education on Marine Biology in a university in Austria gave Laura an opportunity to study different marine ecosystems around the world.
After graduating, she worked for two years in the Maldives before finally moving to the Philippines.
While living in La Union, Laura has been generous in sharing her knowledge and experience about marine ecology to the local community, particularly with the youth. She stresses that the lack of proper education leads to ignorance about the importance of the environment. For her, education about these matters should be part of formal schooling.
However, learning about marine ecology should always go beyond traditional textbooks and classrooms. A hands-on approach on the field is the best way to complement classroom lectures. Being able to interact with nature gives individuals a deeper connection with marine life.
Real-Life Mermaid with a Purpose
Laura’s sentiments for the sea coupled with her extensive knowledge on reef ecology and conservation got us firing and inspired! In this interview, she answers our questions about her work as a marine biologist.
Hi, Laura! How long have you been here in La Union? What are your reasons for choosing San Juan as your home among other places in the world?
“I moved to La Union in 2012. The first time I visited this place was in 2011 when I came here as a tourist. At that time, I was introduced to Ma’am Mary Jane Ortega, former Mayor of San Fernando City.
We were talking about potential projects we could implement in San Fernando. A year later, I then started working as a marine consultant for the Province of La Union and City of San Fernando.”
Since moving to La Union, can you share some of your experiences as a marine biologist working with the local community?
“Working with the local community is the key for me. When you look around and see how people treat the environment, you know it is due to the lack of education. Education is the key to see and make changes.
For me, the most important part is to educate our future generations. We have to ensure that our seas are still there as a whole.
The ocean is our source of life. Without it, we would be doomed!
For local communities like San Juan, it is hard to get access to proper education, unlike people from Manila or other bigger cities and people coming already from wealthy families who can afford sending their children to private schools.”
What is the state of La Union’s marine life at present? What projects are you currently involved in towards addressing issues regarding them?
“Well, La Union is not the place you go if you are a diver. Sorry to say, but you are way better off going to Visayas where you still can find pristine reefs or at least proper Marine Protected Areas (MPA).
There are some [preservation] efforts ongoing for sure but it is small scale. You can find a diversity of corals but they are pretty small. Dynamite fishing was done heavily in those areas and you can see it. Corals are small. They are recovering very slow. There are hardly any big fish. It is pretty much overfished. The word sustainability is still new here!”
What can you say about the influx of tourism in San Juan? What are the pros and cons of a tourist economy? How can we harmonize commerce with the preservation of marine life?
“Oh wow, I think I have never seen a place developing this fast! When I came here, there were only a few resorts, if you can even call them resorts, then just one local bar, no clubs or coffee shops. Life was happening on the beach, and on the beach only, and in the most simplest and best way ever.
Development can be good if it is done sustainably or in an environmentally conscious way. You can see that many resort owners have that in their heart and they try not to leave too much of a damaging foot print to the environment.
But this is more of an individual approach. You can still see, when it comes down to economy versus the environment, who the clear winner is there. The development is almost too fast and it is more about revenue than being environmentally responsible.”
As an ordinary citizen-- whether you are a local, a tourist, an expatriate, or a business owner-- what can we do to play our part in our very own San Juan community as well as nearby towns/barangays?
“Get involved with local organisations who do care. Spread the word. There is so much you can do.
Be an example, show on social media what can be done. Educate others, join hands on activities, be a voice!
There are already so many organisations like The Circle Hostel for a ecobricking via the plastic solution-- be part of it! La Union Soul for shoreline preservation and turtle advocacy-- be part of it! LUSC for beach cleanups-- be part of it! Try to reduce waste instead of introducing more. So easy! Avoid those places abusing our beautiful sources and go to those who try to help!”
A Brighter Future for Humanity and the Environment
Oftentimes, we fail to see the results of our lifestyle choices. It may seem that the task at hand in bringing forth the future of our oceans is a tough endeavor. However, with continued awareness and determination to become part of the solution and not the problem, is a step closer to a renewed and preserved environment.
We are all connected; from this connectedness is where we must draw strength. As parting words from Laura, “People need to be more aware about the importance of the ocean, not only for the marine life but for themselves, as the sea with its coral reefs is our source of life.”
Follow Laura Riavitz on Instagram @seariavitz. Get involved by visiting Ocean Quest Global or follow them on Instagram @oceanquestglobal.