By Jun Jay G. Jimenez, Shell World Philippines

He has shortchanged nature in the past. But these days, he is making up for his past mistakes by being one of the nature warriors campaigning for the preservation of marine life at Verde Island in Batangas.

Meet our passionate nature advocate, Francisco Balid, who earned his in certification in diving through the Malampaya Foundation, Inc.’s (MFI) programme that aims to rehabilitate and preserve the coral reefs in Verde Island Passage. Empowering the community residents by providing them substantial resources to acquire knowledge and skills on how to effectively protect and preserve the environment is one of Shell’s innovative methods in putting to work the principles of sustainable development, and ultimately secure the future generations’ ability to meet their own needs.

Balid is one of seven divers from the pioneering batch, and among the 48 divers who benefitted from the programme. He grew up on the shores of Tabangao Aplaya, with each day of his life carved around on the beauty of living by the sea. The sea is a source of livelihood for the people of Verde Island. Under the sea is a magnificent habitat of several fish, a wonderful creation of colourful coral reefs that looks like rows of tables according to Francisco. “Under the sea is a paradise.

In Pagquilatan, which is part of Verde Island, the corals are in shades of green, blue and white.” He describes that there are paths that look like roads where people can glide which help prevent close contact with the corals.

The 44-year old Francisco is a staunch supporter of Verde Island preservation. Every chance he has, Francisco plays his role as a voice for the protection of corals in Verde Island. He gladly shares that he changed his ways in fishing for the love of nature which the Malampaya programme ignited in him. Each time that he is in the sea, he conquers the depths armed with a thought that he is a warrior fighting for the welfare of marine life.

Francisco recalls his childhood basking in the sun while enjoying the pristine seawater. At age 10, he can go the depths without diving gears. He started fishing using spear fishing (pamamana) at age 13. “In my teenage years, I have seen bounty of fish in the sea. Fishing was easy and the fishermen enjoyed abundant harvest from the sea. All of us just go about with our old ways of fishing with utter disregard for nature’s welfare, not thinking that the fish in the sea will be gone someday.”

Many years of neglect led to what was feared by families on the shores, the bounty of sea was gone and the fishermen faced the challenge of losing their livelihood. Just like the proverbial knight with a shining armour, MFI came to the shores of Verde Island and gave them opportunities to learn about rehabilitating and protecting marine life by way of giving them support to train in diving. A fair number of local folks are now certified in Advance and Rescue Diving, including Francisco.

Years of training as diver equipped Francisco with knowledge in nursing back the corals to life. He learned about safety from the training, which is paramount to Shell operations. With 40 dives tucked in his belt, Francisco shared that one should not go beyond 120 feet to protect lung and ear condition. With his rich experience in sea exploration, Francisco attests to nature’s wonders by saying, “like in Pagquilatan and Pinagbakahan, there are beautiful coral reefs in the portion of the sea where there are bountiful rays of the sun.”

Applying what they learned from the training, the divers are now the voices for the protection of the coral reef. They work together in policing Verde Island to protect the coral reef. “We educate the people that corals also get hurt. We teach them that by preserving the corals, we are keeping the fishes to live in our waters. If corals are abundant, there will always be bountiful fish.”

His diving skills also gave him wonderful experiences to be with famous actors and actresses who are regular visitors of Verde Island and champions of environmental preservation. Armed with complete training in diving, Francisco earns a living by joining commissioned projects like marine life surveying and oil spill cleaning among others.

These days, Verde Island is going back to its old glory. Different species of fish are seen in their natural habitat provided by the coral reefs, which are being nursed back to its richness with the help of abundant sunlight and the strong army of divers who are ready to defend marine life from destruction and safeguard it for future generations to enjoy.