Wala Plastic (No Plastic) – Alex Scott

Including the Philippines, I’ve been lucky enough to have visited several countries within Southeast Asia and have a lot of love and respect for each and every one so far. Settling into the pace of life here can take a while, but once adjusted it is often more fun, chaotic and beautiful than the tightly run schedule and orderly ways of the West. An unfortunately frequent aspect of travelling can be an excess of plastic waste present in its numerous single-use forms. Plastic can be particularly detrimental for marine life and negatively affect the entire ecosystem; with the Philippines being made up of 7000 islands the problem is especially poignant. Recycling and plastic waste causes problems for all countries and none can claim to have solved the issue entirely (the UK where I am from remains behind most of it’s neighbours for setting a standard), however, it is common in European countries to have recycling schemes in place and government efforts being made.

One place I have been impressed by is Sablayan, a town located in Mindoro and where I am calling home for the next three and a half months. Perhaps ‘land home’ is more accurate, as we split our time between here and the incredible Apo Reef Natural Park, a tiny island just a two-hour boat trip away and an ideal location for baited remote underwater video surveys (aka BRUVs). Sablayan is a relatively small but lively town that includes weekly events in the square and a busy public market open seven days a week. A trip to the market is always a fun prospect and it has been great to see the locals making efforts to reduce the amount of plastic being used. I immediately noticed the sellers and merchants were preferring the use of paper bags or newspaper to pack, as well as selling mesh ‘bag for life’ style carrier bags for 5 Pesos. We always try and take our own bags to refill, which is also something they are obviously used to and is common practice. On Apo Reef itself the Park Rangers also do a fantastic job of collecting any litter that washes up on the otherwise pristine shoreline, something LAMAVE staff assist with on our daily search for turtle tracks.

Of course plastic is still in use, for some items it is almost impossible to avoid or the sellers assume you would like a plastic bag for convenience. However, a quick mention of ‘Wala Plastic please sir/madam’ (no plastic!) gets you an immediate smile, a nod and they are always happy to accommodate. You can see a link between efforts made by the residents of Sablayan with that of the Rangers and I think it’s a fitting example of the people here collectively looking after their environment. Everything is carried out with a smile, they are always friendly, happy and helpful (a Filipino trait!) and I think a lot of pride is felt for the town as well as the wildlife. These small changes being made begin to influence the whole area and although it is by no means a perfect model, the difference is noticeable and the effort is worth it.

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Alex Scott, has a B.Sc in Sports Science & Physiology at Leeds University and is soon starting an M.Sc in Conservation & Biodiversity at Exeter University. He says he has always had a keen interest in marine life and feels at home in the water, perhaps stemming from learning to swim in the Australian oceans as a child, or accompanying his father (a Biology teacher) on a turtle conservation trip when he was 10. Fun fact: He’s the official porridge maker for the LAMAVE BRUV team at Apo Reef!