Friday, December 17, 2010


If some omniscient alien entity (OAE for short) were to one day arrive and observe the entire planet Earth and its occupants, what would it think about us?

Now, I’m definitely neither omniscient nor an alien; however, let me try to postulate on what an OAE might conclude after a quick tour of this big blue planet we call home:

OAE: “Alright, I’ve just finished my ‘world tour’, as it were, of this planet you call Earth, the third major satellite from the yellow star that you call the Sun. I’ve seen pretty much everything there is to see; however, I understand little of what I’ve observed. In truth, much of what I have witnessed perplexes me.

“The Earth is clearly a beautiful planet. The compound H2O, which you humans call ‘water’, covers over 70% of your planet’s surface, and it gives the Earth a color and appearance unlike any other planet in your galaxy (trust me on this, since I’ve seen most of them already). I’m actually a little surprised that you chose to call your planet ‘Earth’ and not ‘Water’. Anyway, apparently this water is an essential component of Earth life-forms; without it, none of the myriad creatures living there would survive. In fact, if water had never existed on Earth, life would never have existed either! It is truly a wonderful substance!

“Majority of life on Earth can be found living in large accumulations (or as you natives say, ‘bodies’) of water such as oceans, seas, rivers and lakes. This diversity of life-forms is truly astounding; from micron-sized bacteria to whales over a hundred feet long, the proliferation of aquatic life is like nothing I’ve ever seen anywhere else before!

“Of course, the terrestrial life-forms on Earth are just as incredible as any that could be seen underwater. I’ve observed so many strange and wonderful creatures of all shapes and sizes, adapted to living in all types of conditions: some could crawl, some could walk, others flew… and I recall some of the more important land organisms simply grew in one spot and converted the light from your yellow star into fuel that fed all the other living things around it while simultaneously generating molecules of oxygen, which the other Earthlings require for respiration… truly fascinating!

“You reside on a magnificent piece of real estate, as some of you are fond of saying. However, as I’ve mentioned earlier, I am perplexed by what I can only conclude is a study in contradictions: I cannot, for the life of me, fathom as to why it is that your planet’s most evolved, most intelligent beings (Homo sapiens), the only native species that can fully comprehend and appreciate the myriad intricacies that the Earth and all its spectacular facets has to offer, is the very same species that is now slowly but surely contributing to its demise.

“Consider, for instance, those organisms that produce oxygen… the ones you call plants. It is quite apparent that without oxygen, most creatures on this planet would cease to exist; thus, it is an element of the utmost importance, and by extension the plants that produce it are just as important. Also, these plants are at the base of the food pyramid, and as such are consumed, either directly or indirectly, by nearly every other living thing on the Earth. So between being a food source and a producer of oxygen, plants appear to be extremely vital to the continued survival of life on Earth.

“So why is it, then, that the members of the species Homo sapiens (otherwise known as humans) are actively contributing to the devastation of regions with high densities of plant life?

“In my travels around this planet, I have observed large denuded areas where the tall plants called trees used to stand; evidence of their presence reduced to the stumps they leave behind. I have watched as humans slashed & burned large swaths of forest that have been around for millennia, to make room for their food crops, only to leave the land after just a decade because it has become barren, and thus beginning the slashing & burning cycle anew. I have also witnessed this process increasing in frequency over time, to the point that I can already envision those areas of the Earth that today appear green with life will all become brown and desolate within the next century.

“The plants in the water are not spared either. Unlike the large plants on land, most of the plants found in the water (especially in the large areas you call ‘oceans’) are small. These phytoplankton (as they are called) are actually microscopic. Yet according to my calculations, these plants are responsible for about 55% of the oxygen on the planet! Amazing, isn’t it? These tiny organisms occur in numbers so great that they can generate over half the oxygen that the other inhabitants of Earth require to survive!

“Unfortunately, it appears that being small somehow became synonymous with being insignificant, since most humans seemingly care little about the affairs of such tiny organisms, no matter how important their contributions to the inhabitants of this planet. I’ve been to several places where I had expected to see beautiful views of your planet’s oceans; instead, I watched as a creeping toxic slick composed of the fossilized goo of long-dead organisms [*note: he means fossil fuels, otherwise known as crude oil] was set loose by the actions of humans, killing an incalculable number of unique and diverse creatures while ensuring that the aquatic ecosystem will remain tainted and noxious for a very long time.

“I’ve also seen how many humans seem to think that the disposing of undesirable waste products into waterways is an acceptable action to take, when in fact the truth is quite the opposite! They sincerely believe that as long as they no longer see the offending material, then it must be gone for good. The truth of the matter is that many of your disposable items – especially those made of that synthetic compound you call plastic – leach harmful chemicals into the water. These chemicals often mimic certain hormones and can cause any number of developmental defects in organisms that ingest them, and humans often consume these organisms; thus, they actually end up poisoning themselves!

“These are just a few examples of the bizarre relationship I have observed humans have with the planet on which they reside. And it truly is bizarre.

“If we were to compare the planet Earth to a residential structure – I believe humans call them ‘houses’ – then would it not make sense for the occupants to want to keep their place of residence clean? And when I say clean, I mean not only for appearances sake, but also for the health and safety of their offspring. What’s happening to this planet, however, can be compared to a human throwing all his refuse into the basement of his home, and expecting it to just stay there and not affect his life in any way afterwards. Yet every sentient being throughout the cosmos knows that that is not what happens; perhaps the odors of rotting food will waft throughout the entire house and make everyone sick, or a young human accidentally enters and falls headfirst into the filthy mess (eww, I say… poor unfortunate small human).

“The reality is, you humans are in a position to effect change on your planet. Whether that change is positive or negative is completely up to you. I, or others of my kind, or even beings of a divine inclination, must not be relied upon to rescue you from your responsibility as the stewards of your home world. However, I will give you some advice:

- First, you must truly desire for what’s best for your planet. The actions you will need to take to restore the Earth to its true beauty will be made clear to you as long as you yearn for it from the deepest recesses of your soul.

- Second, by ‘you’, I don’t mean an individual human, or a family, or even a community of humans. I mean the human species. You must all work together if you are to preserve what you have.

- And third, even after you have achieved your goal and have attained a pristine planet, you are only halfway done, for now you must strive to maintain this condition for the years, decades, centuries and millennia to come. You must ensure that all the succeeding generations of your species will not become negligent in the responsibilities that they inherited along with the planet, and thus you must lead by example, so that one day they may do the same.

“It will be difficult, but then again, doing the right thing has rarely ever been easy. Yet I truly believe the effort will be worth it. I have seen what your planet is, and I can foresee what it could become. And most importantly, I believe in the tenacity and ingenuity of your species. I have seen glimpses of what you all could achieve should you collectively desire to move in a singular direction, and your achievements will be great. But time grows short, and you must make your choice soon.

“So, human, tell me… what will you choose to do?”

Monday, November 22, 2010

Ignorance ain't Bliss

At the facility where I work, much of my job involves talking about the environment and getting people to adapt eco-friendly habits for the benefit of every living organism on this planet. To be clear, I’m not asking anyone to do extreme stuff like getting on a boat and using their own bodies to defend whales from harpoons… in reality, all I usually ask is for everyone to remember to throw their trash in the proper place, recycle when you can, minimize the use of plastic bags, and so on. And I do what I can to make the message as entertaining as possible while retaining the importance of the lesson. When you consider that it is the quality of our lives that is at stake, you’d think that everyone would want to hear what I and my colleagues have to say. So why is that not the case?? Why is it that whenever the topic of the conversation turns to the environment or conservation, most people automatically give you a deaf ear and a blank stare?

I find it rather bizarre that people are willing to shell out thousands of pesos to watch the upcoming Taylor Swift concert – or any concert, for that matter (just to be clear, I’ve nothing against Taylor herself) – but refuse to accept free invitations to talks on how to conserve water! I mean hello! This is water we’re talking about! The substance each of us needs to survive! If you don’t take any for three days, you DIE! Obviously, without water you won’t be attending Taylor’s concert in February…

Am I the only one who thinks this situation is completely absurd??

Why is it that we have become a society that values entertainment so much that we consider it a top priority when deciding how to spend our time and money? As an example, I understand that many people find dolphin shows fascinating and amusing: they love watching the marine mammals as they jumps through flaming hoops, the acrobatic mid-air twirls, and their engaging “smiles”. But after being entertained by these animals, do you even care what happens to them? Are you touched enough by what you saw that you decide to learn all you can about dolphins in captivity? Because if you did, you wouldn’t like what you’ll discover; in fact, you will most probably regret having gone to that dolphin show in the first place! And that’s really my point: when it comes to choosing between what’s important and what’s fun, the important stuff gets left by the side of the road because the fun stuff is the focus of all our attention.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to be some killjoy out to prevent anybody from having a good time. I enjoy having fun just as much as the next person. However, I believe I know enough to tell when the fun must stop and serious action must take its place, or when I must admit to not knowing enough about something that I must take the time to study it further before my fun can continue. And for the longest time ever since I was young, I was of the impression that all adults were responsible and thought things through this way. Imagine my disappointment when I grew up and finally realized that the world isn’t populated with responsible adults. The nagging question in my head now is: why is this so?

Is it really so hard to understand that the water which we all must drink to survive has to be protected at their source, which in most cases in our country are watersheds surrounded by lush, virgin forests? That consequently, allowing illegal loggers unhindered access to such forests directly threatens our own access to clean drinking water? In a similar manner, do people really think that the candy wrappers or cigarette butts they throw out of the windows of the vehicles they are riding will somehow disappear forever just like that? Is it so difficult to fathom that an “out of sight, out of mind” attitude is extremely unrealistic and irresponsible in this context, since plastics simply do not melt away and evaporate like an ice cube would, but instead they persist and release toxins into our waterways, infiltrating the marine food web and the seafood we eat? As a result, we end up consuming the plastic trash we ourselves carelessly threw out in the first place!

Does what I’m saying sound too farfetched to be true? Then perhaps you haven’t been listening to what my colleagues around the world have been saying for the past few decades. But even without going through all the scientific and anecdotal evidence, you need only consider the high incidences of cancer among people of all ages as well as the increasing reports of developmental disorders being found in newborns and young children, and then mull over the fact that these kids were born into an era where the cities have a constant smoggy haze floating above them, where toys covered with lead-based paints are actually the norm and not the exception, where babies regularly drink from bottles that release toxins when heated, and where plastic, not plankton, is already the dominant ‘inhabitant’ in some of the world’s oceans, outnumbering aquatic organisms 6 to 1.

We eat, drink, breathe, walk through, and swim in all manner of toxic filth, yet instead of channeling all our available resources into generating solutions for these problems (which, by the way, we created in the first place), we continue to act like everything in our world is okie-dokie, as if willfully ignoring the problems will somehow make them go away. Additionally, we choose to entertain rather than to educate ourselves, preferring to splurge on the latest electronic gadgets, CDs, clothes, cars, cigarettes (or whatever habit-forming substance strikes your fancy), and going to the latest gigs, fancy malls, and celebrity events, because these are FUN…

Is being diagnosed with cancer, and then taking an agonizing 10 months to slowly, painfully deteriorate and die… is that fun?? Or how about bringing into the world a child saddled with all kinds of developmental and physical disorders, and then having to pay for the astronomical medical expenses necessary to treat all that child’s symptoms, only to have him or her die young anyway… is that fun as well??

Perhaps what I and others like me have to say cannot be considered fun; in fact, I will admit that it can be downright depressing. But I assure you it is as important to every one of us as breathing. Imagine, if we all decided that breathing is boring and simultaneously stopped respiring, the human race would be extinct in 10 minutes!

Is something like THAT (simultaneous human asphyxiation) ever occurring an absurd thought? Most definitely it is, and it is just as absurd as the attitude many people have when they ignore the environmental crisis at hand. “Ignorance is bliss” may be true for a while, but this is like ignoring a small fire in your home kitchen: pretending it isn’t there will not make it go away, and it may very well grow to consume your home and everything in it, including yourself and your family. And that is an apt metaphor for what is happening today: a ‘fire’ of environmental degradation is slowly but surely consuming the planet that is our only home, and unless we all choose to do something about it – initially by educating ourselves on what the problems are and then taking it from there – we may soon end up watching as our home, our loved ones and eventually we ourselves are consumed as well.

I imagine if our Mother Earth could talk, this is what she'd be saying...

Thursday, November 11, 2010

I'm Googleable!

Earlier today, a friend of mine was telling me how she was pleasantly surprised to discover that typing my name on Google Search results in a lot of hits. To be completely honest, I've known about this for quite a while already, since my job often requires me to conduct interviews with TV, radio and print media, as well as with students (usually college undergrads). These interviews are usually inquiries about the oceanarium, its animals and their care and maintenance, but sometimes I'm also asked to talk about SCUBA diving, helmet diving (a.k.a. Aquanaut), and being a zoologist. And I must admit, I never get tired of the "oh, I saw you today/yesterday/last night on TV" comments and text messages, even if I would prefer that people remember what I was saying just as much as they knew what channel or show I appeared in.

Anyway, I'd like to share some links to blog postings where I was mentioned or interviewed, as well as the videos of some of my TV appearances. As an environmentalist advocating for greater information dissemination, especially when it helps to increase knowledge about Philippine marine ecosystems, I will do what I must to get the word out to as many people as I can. So, if you have any questions you'd like to ask about the ocean, marine parks, fish, diving, the environment, even evolution... please feel free to ask. ^_^

BI"OH"DIVERSITY - a group of students were doing a documentary film on Philippine biodiversity, and they needed to visit a lot of nature parks to conduct interviews, like La Mesa Eco Park, Avilon Zoo and Manila Ocean Park. They decided to post their accomplishments on this blog, though now that the project is finished it seems they no longer update it anymore.

The Varsitarian: Showcasing the wonders of Philippine seas - a walking interview I did for the UST school paper, which I gave a few months after the oceanarium opened in 2008.

Trying out the Fish Spa - I'm not seen in this video, coz instead of being interviewed, I'm the cameraman! The reporter (my good friend, Ms. Erika Tapalla) came to interview Dr. Benjamin Vallejo Jr. of UP about our fish spa, and needed a pair of steady hands to assist in the shoot. It's nice to know that I can be effective behind as well as in front of the camera!

Manila Ocean Park and WWF Inspect Bataan Coastal Resources - this article highlights a trip I took with WWF to Morong, Bataan, where we visited the mangrove forests (or mangals), seagrass beds and coral reefs that can be found in the surrounding area. It is a known nesting site for sea turtles, which is why organizations such as the Bantay Pawikan Project have set up base there.

Fish in Dirty Water - a blog article by Cesar "Gigit" Sulit a.k.a. The Lone Rider, that talks about this large shark that was seen jumping out of the waters underneath the oceanarium some time ago. (Note: the shark was not one of ours, and witnesses claim it was larger than any of the sharks we had at the time.)

Manila Ocean Park (uploaded by normandbph) - an interview I did with Mel Tiangco shortly after the opening (this is part 1; part 2 here). I remember that it was after this particular bit of media exposure that people were suddenly approaching me to ask "ikaw ba yung nasa TV para sa ocean park?"

Friday, November 5, 2010

It's so Annoying, I could die!

I’d like to share this series of YouTube videos that my son found last week:

The Annoying Orange
At first, I was concerned that he might be watching inappropriate material online (I mean, hello, this is the internet we’re talking about), so I decided to observe whatever it was he was laughing to on YouTube. I was really surprised when I caught myself chuckling in amusement to the inane antics of the aforementioned orange and his veggie pals, and I ended up waiting after each episode finished for my son to click to the next video in the series so I could watch some more.

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia:

“The Annoying Orange is a comedy web series created by Dane Boedigheimer, also known as "Daneboe". The show features an animated talking orange called Orange, played by Dane Boedigheimer. Boedigheimer's partner Spencer Grove writes the episodes.

Orange heckles other fruits, vegetables, or nearby animated objects, with puns and laughter. Orange lives on a kitchen counter, which he shares with his best friend Pear, a Bartlett pear, also played by Boedigheimer. Despite being his friend, Pear finds Orange just as annoying as everyone else he encounters. Other recurring guest stars include Passion (a female passion fruit), Midget Apple, Marshmallow and Knife. Most episodes consist of Orange talking to other characters, who become annoyed and meet a gruesome end, usually by evisceration with a knife (although fates have included a blender and "deathtrap"), which Orange tries to warn them about before it happens (for example, by saying "knife").”

I must admit, I usually prefer my entertainment to be somewhat intellectually stimulating, and I have absolutely no appetite for toilet humor or crass vulgarity. So for me to be giggling with glee as I watch each Orange episode seems pretty off-character for me. Naturally, I began to analyze this situation, and I came up with a list of reasons why I’m amused by the Orange instead of annoyed:

1. No toilet humor or need to resort to vulgarity (well, almost...)

2. The Orange is so annoyingly irritating, it’s actually funny!

3. The “death scenes” may seem violent initially, but when you think about it, what is so violent about grating a slice of cheese, slicing an apple in two or eating an onion ring?

4. The jokes are hilarious! They remind me of The Simpsons, where anything can happen and often does, and usually when you least expect it to.

5. The puns are really… punny! (I know, that was veeerry baaad… but I couldn’t resist!)

The link above will take you to the first Annoying Orange episode on YouTube, with a selection of others in the series on the right. Afterwards, please share your thoughts and comment if you are as amused (or even if you’re not) as I am by this freaky fruit and his poor unsuspecting pals.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Another Poem!

The following is the last poem I had written in college. It came about during a low point in my life (or rather, what I thought was the lowest point at the time), and I had written it to express exactly what I was feeling without actually saying what was going on. When I finished, I said to myself that this piece, though complete in itself, cannot end just as it is; it must have a 'sequel', especially since it ends on a dour note. However, it's been over ten years since that time, and I've yet to write that final, uplifting conclusion. Not that I haven't tried, mind you... its just that I've not been able to connect with a feeling or emotion that could complement the one found in this piece. Ah well... some other time, perhaps. Until then, do read on and tell me what you think:

My Story of 'Hope'

When I was a young boy, Hope sprang in me true
And inspired me to fly into the sky blue.
But when I first tried on that clear summer’s day
I just came crashing down, all to my dismay!
I said to myself, “I failed, but I’ll cope
One day I will fly as long as I’ve Hope.”
I was up the next morn all cheery and bright
Wond’ring if today I will reach the sun’s light.
Looking behind me, I brushed all doubts aside:
Hope gave me wings so the wind I can ride!
But despite my new gifts I still couldn’t fly;
Upon hitting the ground I gave a pained cry.
Nevertheless, Hope made my spirit strong.
“I will touch the sky! That is where I belong!!”
And thus, everyday, I continued my quest
Never relenting, always trying my best.

The days turned to weeks, the months into years
Yet I’ve nothing to show for my effort but tears
Because both my wings are now tattered and torn,
My feathers so shabby, my spirit forlorn.
What happened, you ask? Well, it took quite a while
But now I see why my hard work proved futile:
Each time I failed I’d get up and keep trying
Unaware that Hope within me was dying
For each time I climbed up higher and farther
I’d fall to the ground much faster and harder.
Hope can get hurt, and whenever I fell
I gave it a wound I could never make well.
And now Hope has died… I’ve given up trying
I have thrown away all my dreams of flying.
If each time I fly I know I will fall,
Just crash and get hurt, then why try at all?

Monday, October 18, 2010

Christmas... in September?? Madness!!

Can anyone out there explain this to me: what is with the Christmas songs being played in the malls and over the radio… in SEPTEMBER?? Halloween isn’t even around the corner, yet “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus” and “Christmas in our Hearts” can suddenly be heard almost everywhere. And take note that this phenomenon is unique to the Philippines and nowhere else; our country holds the distinction of celebrating the world's longest Christmas season. Many websites, Wikipedia included, attest to this. But none of them answer that most important of questions: WHY?

Why have Filipinos stretched a holiday season, which officially begins on December 16 and ends on the first Sunday of January (about 3 weeks), to last up to 5 months?? What exactly is the logic of associating every month that ends in –ber with snow, presents and Santa Claus?? Oh wait, don’t tell me… it’s BRR, not BER. Cause it’s supposed to be cold. Veeeeery fuuuuuunny, ha ha ha… :p

If you ask me, this reeks of holiday marketing. Obviously, sales are up for nearly every potential gift item available because of the Christmas season, and of course malls and their tenants would like to capitalize on this and squeeze their customers for all their worth. Thing is, it will be Rudolph and his North Pole pals who will be doing the squeezing, as mall display windows all over the country will have reindeer, Santa and his elves pressing their smiling faces against the glass, virtually inviting kids (and by extension, their loving but unwitting parents) to come in and purchase one holiday trinket… or ten. I’m sure that, back in the days when Philippine Christmases only lasted one month, these marketing folks would get together after the holidays, and as they discussed/bragged about how much they made from this year’s holiday sales, one of them suddenly wondered aloud “why can’t we have more days like this?”, and the others around him would say “hey yeah, that’s a good idea, let’s do that”. And ever since then, malls began playing holiday jingles a week earlier each year, thereby getting the unknowing shoppers in the mood for some holiday shopping, until finally we’re arrived at this point: “Jingle Bells” before “Trick or Treat”!!

Of course, the media are in on it as well, and so we are bombarded with “I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas” in our cars and in our homes well before Oktoberfest. And as we listen to the music and reminisce on all the lovely holiday memories we have, we begin to wonder, at the back of our minds, “maybe now would be a good time to do some holiday shopping for my Christmas list”. Ho-ho-ho… and no, that’s not Santa, but your ‘friendly-neighborhood’ sales & marketing team at the local mall enjoying the fruits of your labor through the purchases you made months before December 25, all because you heard some Puerto Rican singing “Feliz Navidad” while you were driving to work this morning. Ho-ho-ho, indeed…

Then again, maybe it’s not actually that simple. I might be mistaken in pointing to malls and sales personnel as being the sole culprits for this ‘Christmas in September’ madness. Maybe… maybe the customers are to blame for this. Yeah, maybe regular Filipino folk like you and me brought this all about. With all the bad news that greets us every morning as we pick up the paper and read the headlines, perhaps we’re just longing for anything, even some old overplayed song, to remind us that there is still some good news to look forward to. Or perhaps it’s because of the conditions we live in, our country being 3rd world and all, that we as a people clamor for those times and feelings that we associate with joyfulness and hope. And what other regular annual event is able to bring our country together with such hope, positivity and love?

As an adult, I will admit that Christmas no longer stirs within me those warm feelings of anticipation and excitement that it used to back in my childhood, and I know for a fact that I share this sentiment with many of my peers. (Well okay, it still does on occasion, but never as it did back in the day.) But I still look forward to it. I still think it is a joyous time that should be spent with loved ones, and I do admit to being addicted to that feeling I get every time I wake up on Christmas morning. And perhaps that is all that this ‘madness’ is: an attempt to extend the warmth that is in abundance in almost every Filipino home on Christmas day. By listening to all these holiday songs months before the holiday itself, we are able to recall and relive those wonderful feelings again and again, and by so doing are able to get through the day with a more positive atmosphere about us. Positive attitudes being infectious, it is highly likely that your upbeat manner could inspire others to behave in a similarly optimistic fashion.

And now that I think about it, what’s wrong with that?


The following are the lyrics to a song featured in the 1978 special “Christmas Eve on Sesame Street”. It is a wonderful song that expresses the importance of keeping the Christmas feeling of warmth and goodwill towards others with you every day, even beyond the holiday season. Click on the title to watch the video.

From the TV show "Sesame Street"

When Christmas time is over and presents put away, don't be sad
There'll be so much to treasure about this Christmas day and the fun we've had
So many happy feelings to celebrate with you
And, oh, the good times hurry by so fast.
But even when it's over there's something you can do to make Christmas last:

Keep Christmas with you
All through the year,
When Christmas is over,
You can keep it near.
Think of this Christmas day
When Christmas is far away.

Keep Christmas with you
All through the year,
When Christmas is over,
Save some Christmas cheer.
These precious moments,
Hold them very dear
And keep Christmas with you
All through the year.

Christmas means the spirit of giving
Peace and joy to you,
The goodness of loving,
The gladness of living;
These are Christmas too.

So, keep Christmas with you
All through the year,
When Christmas is over,
Save some Christmas cheer.
These precious moments,
Hold them very dear
And keep Christmas with you
All through the year.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Contest Time!

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