April 7, 2022

Green Purpose: A Student’s Reflection on Taking Up Environmental Science

BFF Aira Mae Gavan, BS Environmental Science, Visayas State University

1. She Thought She Already Knew Environmentalism

Photo Source: Aira Mae T. Gavan

I drew this the summer before entering university. I was then a confused 18-year-old who had no solid idea of what path to take having not passed my dream course. I was clueless before taking environmental science and all of what it has to offer. All I thought about was planting and so on, hence this girl-holding-a-plant sketch. As I embarked on completing subjects as semesters passed by, I had a better grasp of the environment and its systems, compared to before, and an in-depth view of the realities of the Samar and Leyte focal landscape.  Enrolling in Visayas State University taught me the significance of schlepping my way through the academic ladder. Not only that, the institution gave me an expansive horizon that there are more organizations and activities outside the campus community that extend grassroots assistance. 

2. She Advocates for Intersectional Environmentalism

Photo Source: Aira Mae T. Gavan

As an environmental science student, I did not solely focus on the academic aspect of my undergraduate study. I applied and participated in local and national organizations that champion youth empowerment, sustainable development, and environmental conservation. By doing so, I learned more about advocacies and the interconnection of society outside the confines of the university. Realization dawned upon me: I need to take advantage of my youth, skills, and knowledge, therefore I started being informed and engaged. I have the agency to better my community by being a good student and citizen. In this stage of my development, I started seeing myself as a part of a huge collective of people that reflects their priorities through their actions. I am equipping myself, as possible, by adopting responsible behaviors and by building a strong set of principles. All of these matter. 

I am particularly interested in environmental justice because of the concept of intersectional environmentalism [1]. It is a powerful mindset of giving a meaningful contribution to societal changes that will change ecosystems through employing work-related methods in strengthening environmental policies. It would help in bridging the gaps between people coming from all backgrounds and walks of life: the vulnerable and privileged populations. In the future, I hope to explore and contribute to inclusivity, proper resource management, and sustainable conservation in relation to a socioecological framework grounded on scientific principles in my focal landscape. 

3. The Rabbit Hole of Environmental Science: A Memoir


Photo Source: Aira Mae T. Gavan

My personal narrative is evidence that wherever you are in the Philippines, you are bound to be affected by the hazardous aftermaths of natural calamities amplified by anthropogenic factors. I have experienced a plethora of natural disasters, like any other person of my generation, however, I personally lived through both Typhoon Ondoy, when I was nine, and Super Typhoon Yolanda/Haiyan, when I was thirteen. I was raised in San Pedro City, Laguna. My family spends vacations on my grandparent’s tiny island in Leyte. I grew up loving the coasts and looking forward to seeing the countryside’s environment every summer. 

My parents eventually decided to move to the province, in order for us to experience normalcy and not have our schooling be interrupted by the constant flooding. I transferred to Tacloban City. Six months after I moved in, I experienced one of the most notable super typhoons in the world’s history. We left to escape the flood, but we encountered Yolanda. We had our sustenance from the harvested crops in the area, since there is no access to the groceries and establishments at that time. We relied heavily on nature: timber and crops from the terrestrial lands and seafood from the seas. These experiences are eye-openers that there is an urgent need to protect our focal environment. 

​​In college, I hesitantly took the route of environmental science.  It was like being Alice in Wonderland. I was aware of how significant this field was to the community, however, there was this disconnect and indifference within me. I was at a standstill. Instead of moping at the dormitory, I randomly joined an environmental interest organization inside the university. And with the issues introduced through lecture discussions and firsthand experiences, I was inspired to take this more seriously. It was how I recalibrated by meeting and interacting with civically-minded people and key players in my region. I started to see my course from a new perspective, by intentionally sticking with it and making the conscious decision of going deeper into the rabbit hole of environmentalism. I treasure all that I learn from esteemed professors, resource speakers, and all source materials I come across this journey.

Environmental Science is a multidisciplinary field that incorporates information and ideas from natural, physical, and social science. It reveals system operation: how parts of nature and human societies connect and interact. There are also related fields of interest that may be further examined including environmental management and law, global health risk assessment, ethics and technology, etc. It is with great hope that there will be more youth who will engage themselves in this course, most especially in the Eastern Visayas region, in order to conserve and protect the valuable finite resources in our distinct landscapes and seascapes. It is truly a challenging endeavor, yet a fulfilling one. 

This is the principle of watershed management and coastal resources management plans follow. It is also the foundation of preserving exploited wildlife and the fisheries’ population. By definition, sustainability is concerned with the longevity of life and the economy. It means preventing system disruption or collapse. It has three pillars: social, environmental, and economic aspects of society. It is essential in creating responses in line with socio-economic development, land use, and environmental integrity. Sustainable development is finding a way in the direction of positive and social and ecological coevolution. 

The forests, wetlands, oceans, and other significant biomes offer ecosystem services. This is composed of four major categories: provisioning services, regulating services, cultural services, and supporting services. Nature provides our food, timber, fiber, medicines, and all raw materials obtained from the ecosystem. The regulating services are the benefits obtained from the processes in a respective ecosystem, such as cleaning the air, purifying the water, mitigating the floods, controlling the erosion, detoxifying the soils, and modifying the climate. Cultural services such as recreation, spiritual, intellectual, and a sense of place are the non-material benefits obtained from the forest ecosystem. Finally, the supporting services are the processes of photosynthesis, nutrient cycling, pollination, and seed dispersal.

The concept of ecological services and functions constitutes the basic necessities of Earth’s inhabitants. These are essential and are imperative to be protected for most of these are finite. It is fundamental to identify how parts of nature and human societies operate and interact to support the everyday lifestyle and production of a society to develop the research methods and systems to sustain ecological services. Samar and Leyte need to value the ridge-to-reef relationship of the environment and how it directly impacts the topography. The actions and decisions that are necessary include formulation of plans focused on a systematic, context-based, and people-centered watershed and coastal resource management outline that adapts to the socio-economic and cultural landscape of Region 8 for the benefit of the community and stakeholders.

One of the recognized sustainable strategies that started from Region 8 is an initiative of Visayas State University, in collaboration with the German Agency for Technical Cooperation (GTZ), which started an agroforestry system known as “Rainforestation farming” in the early 1990s. This program endorsed Philippine native tree species for the rehabilitation of degraded landscapes, restoration of key ecosystem services and functions while providing forest-dependent communities with an alternative source of livelihood. This project continues to propagate the method of planting native species for the benefit of areas prone to landslides, critical watersheds, and denuded parts of protected areas. This alternative approach was developed to restore the forest cover in the country using the native tree species. It has started as a small-scale research project and is making an increasingly large impact on the country’s reforestation project. It specifically integrates the planting of commercial fruit trees and native timber species to improve the ecosystem services by re-establishing the biodiversity of the area.

The study of planting native tree species has shown effective outcomes in restoring ecological functions. Such proof of this technology design including replenishment of forest and increase in the number of biodiversity in the area make it a significant venture. Rainforestation is an instrument in fixing the soil pH level and the crops were used for profit. Unfortunately, it has a relatively slow and low rate of implementation and dissemination due to constraints such as limited technical capacity, financial assistance, and administrative support.

I dream that the majority of the region will be rainforested before the next decade ends. It will help with the mitigation of natural hazards with the consideration of the geographical location of Eastern Visayas in the typhoon belt. Trees are natural buffers. Green investments are, more often than not, above gray infrastructures. Hence, its conservation must be of utmost importance. In natural ecosystems, there is a sequence of growth, repair, and reproduction. This life cycle of habitats and organisms must be secured in order to maintain protection. Healthy ecosystems fix and expand their domains. 

Forest Foundation Philippines, in partnership with Edukasyon.ph, its grantee,  implemented the Best Friends of the Forest Movement (#BFFMovement) Online Fellowship Program to support young forest advocates in the country’s most critical forest landscapes – Sierra Madre, Palawan, Samar and Leyte, and Bukidnon and Misamis Oriental. Through the program, students were given access to learning resources, mentorship opportunities, and platforms to showcase their passion projects. This published material is a passion project of our Best Friend of the Forest. The views and opinions expressed in this material are those of our Best Friend, and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of Forest Foundation Philippines and Edukasyon.ph. Furthermore, both Forest Foundation Philippines and Edukasyon.ph assume no liability or responsibility for any inaccurate or incomplete information presented in this material.