It was 2006 when I first volunteered in Greenpeace. I just finished my last term in college and a friend invited me to attend a volunteer’s meeting. At that time, I only associated Greenpeace with their anti-GMO (genetically modified organisms) campaign, our school being a supporter of organic and sustainable agriculture. I had no idea what the meeting was all about, but like most volunteers at one point or another, curiosity led me to attend that first engagement with Greenpeace. The meeting, as it turned out, was about the “Defending Our Oceans” ship tour.

“Defending Our Oceans” is a global campaign that challenges wasteful and destructive fishing while promoting the creation of a global network of marine reserves. MY Esperanza, which means hope in Spanish, sails through the world’s oceans to bear witness to the part of the world which is often unseen by most. The tour in the Philippines highlighted the wonders of, as well as the environmental threats faced by, our oceans. The Philippines, being at the center of marine biodiversity in the world, is also one of the most threatened. As Esperanza graced our shores, it became more apparent that it is imperative to protect our marine resources. Issues during that tour ranged from plastic pollution in Manila Bay, toxic mine spills, and oil spills that continuously damage our marine ecosystems. But the tour was able to highlight as well successful implementation of community-based marine reserves in Apo Island, which can be a role model for global efforts.

Volunteers during that tour donned a shirt which boldly said “Ocean Defender”.  Call it first day funk or sheer excitement, but I never felt so much joy in having such great responsibility to communicate such a strong message. I remember setting foot on Esperanza with so much pride, endlessly hearing stories, horrid and beautiful, of its journey through the seas, inspiring people that all of us can take part in defending our oceans. That’s the beauty of campaigning, everyone is a stakeholder, and everyone has a role to play in safeguarding a safer and cleaner future.

Fast track to the present: I am now joining MY Esperanza for the last leg of its “Defending Our Pacific” expedition. For the past few months, Esperanza has been bearing witness in international waters, documenting and taking actions against unsustainable fishing practices that lead to diminishing tuna stocks.

Esperanza has come a long way during this expedition. From French Polynesia to Papua New Guinea (PNG), Esperanza was able to expose longline vessels and purse-seine fishing vessels that not only massively capture depleting tuna stocks, but also trap other marine life, such as sharks and turtles, as bycatch. Despite the ban on purse-seine vessels utilizing fish aggregating devices (FADs) in the high seas, there are illegal fishing vessels stealing tuna away. Another sad part of it, Pacific peoples are not benefitting from any of this, but big corporations from Taiwan, Korea, Japan, EU and US.

The fight is not yet over. This coming December, leaders from Pacific Island Nations will convene to decide whether or not to continue banning unsustainable fishing practices, particularly, purse-seine fishing utilizing FADs.  Greenpeace proposes, in order to secure sustainable fisheries and to protect the Pacific’s marine ecosystem, that high seas pockets (also known as Pacific Commons) between these islands nations be closed to all fishing activities and be designated as marine reserves. Tuna stocks around the world are rapidly depleting, Pacific Commons are on the line. It is imperative that we protect our marine resources for present and future generations.

I will be on-board MY Esperanza for a month vigilantly watching the high seas until the ship reaches Palau where big decisions will be made in defending our oceans. Personally, I believe this is a great way to commemorate my five years with Greenpeace, donning again the title (which comes with great responsibility), Ocean Defender.