Sending an SOS to the World to Save our Seas | La Union

I always associate the swell-filled beaches of La Union to a chill weekend – that’s why when an opportunity presented itself to go back, I quickly grabbed the chance. I remember when I was still working in a conventional office, I would head out to this place just to let my occupational burn-out simmer. I tried learning surfing to the point of passing beginner’s stage but unlike riding a bike, learning to surf takes continuous practice. Next time I found myself trying to get stoked over a surfboard in Lanuza, Surigao del Sur, I crashed and swallowed nothing but sea water. 

View of the AG Sano-created Sand Art from above

This time around, my business of going to La Union has nothing to do with surfing. Instead, I found myself in the accompany of sea lovers wanting to spread word about the importance of saving our seas. For most, the idea of sending love to our oceans constitutes not leaving any traces of trash and not taking home bottleful of sands. There is however, a previously unknown habit of ours that harms our seas. Our use of chemicals to protect our skins are found to have deadly repercussions to the marine life thriving underwater. 

Anna Meloto-Wilk, Co-Founder and President of Human Nature’s
I am never fond of using sunscreen not because I am aware of this fact already, rather I am just being gung-ho and expressing my machismo as if saying ‘bring on the sunburn’. Now, that I am made more conscious about the harmful consequences of these chemicals, the more I will embrace the kisses of the sun on my bare skin. 

The event I attended was called “Human Nature Save Our Seas Coastival” held in San Juan, La Union last weekend of April. The two-day environmental shindig imparted some important realities about how our daily personal care habits – like the way we “shower and slather” -- impacts our seas. The event, which the organizers plans to repeat every year, hopes to inspire more travelers to take a cognizant approach in protecting marine life, and this includes being more mindful and limiting what we bring into the open seas.

the beautiful ladies responsible for the first ever 'Save our Seas Coastival
“Saving Our Seas can be as simple as making sure that what goes down our shower drains won’t pollute our water ways & affect marine life. What we use on the beach does end up in open water. Over 5,000 metric tons of sunscreen containing coral-bleaching ingredients wash off from swimmers annually,” shares Anna Meloto-Wilk, Co-Founder and President of Human Nature’s.

That’s it. What protects your skin from the harmful rays of the sun is what kills off marine life through the its harmful ingredients. Unconsciously, having a Rambo attitude during my numerous island hopping stints by not fearing the rays of the sun acquitted me of killing off coral reefs. But for those who also wants to protect their skin, I know the question ringing in your mind right now; “is it still environmentally acceptable to use sunscreen?” Beside, safeguarding one’s skin health is also as imperative as protecting our massive wealth of coral reef. The answer to that is a resounding “Yes”.

AG Sano, explaining the sand art he created for the event
By no sheer coincidence, Human Nature is also the maker of SafeProtect, the country’s first and only reef-friendly sunscreen. In manufacturing and marketing their product, it takes into consideration the statistic stating that “the Philippines is home to 22, or 32% of the total area of the Great Coral Triangle or 9% of the world”. Researchers have estimated that more than “60% of the world’s coral reefs are at risk of being impacted by a variety of sources including marine pollutants present in synthetic sunscreens”. SafeProtect gives beach-goers the option to still use sunscreen while at the same time ensuring no harmful chemicals will trickle into the coral reefs. 

Human Nature also states that “Even more, plastic sachets commonly used by vacationers and plastic microbead-filled lotions, face scrubs, and toothpaste also contribute to the pollution problem. Microbeads are only 0.0004 to 1.24 millimeters in size, making them too small to be filtered out by water treatment facilities. Plastic microbeads can also enter our food chain -- fishes and other marine animals often mistake these plastic beads for food. Microbead pollution has become so widespread that the US has already imposed a ban under 2015’s Microbead-free Waters Act.”

 Participants helping to put the finishing touches to the Sand art
Just imagining the number of people who enjoy the many beautiful seas all over our country and multiplying it with the amount of pollutants they bring into the water puts forth a troubling image on my mind. While, the event managed to instill environment-related issues in our mind, having a little bit of fun never took a backseat. 

At around the same time the party people in Boracay are gearing up for “LaBoracay”, us participants chilling at San Juan, La Union are witnessing the creation of a massive “Save our Seas” sand art being outlined by celebrated muralist and climate justice advocate AG Saño.

Sporting a humble demeanor he kindly directed us what to do, “Just smoothen the lines on the sand” he will tell us while we use pieces of wood as we try to follow the outline he drew earlier. 

Chill afternoon jamming with talented musicians
In between breaks of creating art on the sand under the blistering heat of the sun and grinding on healthy buffet meals, we engaged in various activities such as; poi dancing, capoeira, and yoga. Pleased for being not forced to do Zumba dancing this time around, I opted to attend a yoga session with renowned yoga instructor Corey Wills teaching us a few basic yoga body positions.

I found the hour long lesson very interesting as it also incorporated some core training techniques, something I will need to do more in order to summon my missing six-pack abs in the near future. 

the sea-turtle won't be completed without the art contribution of this writer
Just before sunset we all gathered up at the beach and stood in circle inside the big sand art AG Saño created, while a drone camera flew above us. Waving like little kids as the drone approaches us, a chorus of cheers erupted kick-starting a mini celebration. As the spectacular sunset of San Juan, La Union sink slowly in the horizon, the fiery red sky peppered enough remaining sunlight on the whole beachhead, covering it with a golden set of colors. The atmosphere turned more festive while a musical act started playing their song. Everyone was on a natural high mode.  

Drone taking flight
This isn’t “nowhere near LaBoracay”, I told myself, delighted at not having to experience that madness. However, I also realized how fun it is to come out more environmentally aware after this, of knowing that whatever little things we bring to our ocean has the potentially to harm it – even in miniscule of ways, but if we multiply it with our multitudes, the damage it will result will become catastrophic. 

As the drone shots were passed around that evening, an undeniable message was clearly sent out; to myself and to the rest of the participants of the first ever Save our Seas Coastival.

Written in giant letters following a sea turtle; it says “SOS”; a very simple yet direct call for help. I guess, there is no better time than now, for us to heed the plea of our seas. 

About the Event
“Human Nature’s partners, World Wide Fund for Nature, Save Philippine Seas, and Project CURMA in organizing this two-day event.”