CI Photojournal: The Turtle Islands (Part 3 of 3)

Later this year the Ocean Health Index, a new tool to measure all dimensions of ocean health, will officially launch. In preparation for its launch, photographer and videographer Keith Ellenbogen went out on the water to document the state of some of the world’s most important and vulnerable marine ecosystems — and the people who depend on them. This week, we’re bringing you some of his favorite photos from the Philippines’ Turtle Islands. Check out the previous posts in this series.

The "Friends of Environment Nature and Development Society" youth group making T-shirts — all with the message "Save the Sea Turtle." (© Keith Ellenbogen)

In addition to photographing marine wildlife, one of the most rewarding aspects of my job is being able to meet and visually communicate the culture and traditions of local communities. From the Turtle Islands, I took an hour-long speedboat ride to Taganak Island. Upon arrival at the dock there was a crowd of teenagers eager to say hello.

My welcoming party was made up of participants in an innovative program that engages the youth to think about conservation and raise awareness throughout the island community. The program, called “Friends of Environment Nature and Development Society,” is led by Marion Daclan and Orlando Maliwanag of CI-Philippines. Like many community-based programs, a large part of its success is found in the leadership and relationships that have been developed over a long time.

A "Save the Sea Turtle" silkscreen design created by local youth leaders on the Turtle Islands. (© Keith Ellenbogen)

Between the ages of 13 and 15, the group’s approximately 30 members are involved in a number of environmental projects that range from cleaning up the beach to educational art projects. For example, their youth leader, Joel — who happens to be an excellent artist — drew designs that were then silkscreened on T-shirts. Each design read “Save the Sea Turtle.” I bought one for myself, and one for my niece. Right now these shirts are only sold to local people on the islands, a place with no tourists. However, the group hopes to generate revenue through the sale of these shirts — possibly reaching a larger market like Malaysia or even better the United States.

I pose with Joel (left), local youth group leader and artist, who gave my camera case some personality. I will send him a photograph of a sea turtle to say thanks! (© Keith Ellenbogen)

By far one of the most captivating and profound moments for me was an interaction I had with a 13-year-old girl who is part of this youth program. When I asked her why we should care about sea turtles, I expected she would reply with something about wanting more food or a better life for herself and her family. Instead, her answer was more worldly and selfless: she answered in broken English, “I really want to help the world around me to protect the sea turtles — so that we can live peacefully and save Mother Earth.”

Twin sisters stand in front of a mural with sea turtle designs. Sea turtle are often depicted in local art. (© Keith Ellenbogen)

This girl probably has the equivalent of a second grade education. She is poor. She may have never left the small island where she lives, yet she has a holistic view — understanding that when it comes to conserving the oceans, we are all connected and share a common responsibility and destiny.

Keith Ellenbogen is a member of the International League of Conservation Photographers (iLCP). Check out more of Keith’s sea turtle photos and videos on the New England Aquarium Explorers Blog.

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