Christopher de Leon for the Verde Island Passage
New conservation champion experiences rush of setting a sea turtle free

Kicking off a new partnership for marine conservation, actor Christopher De Leon joined a team from Conservation International-Philippines (CI-P) in releasing a pawikan or green turtle back to the sea.

The pawikan release is De Leon’s first activity as he joins Conservation International in campaigning for the protection and sustainable management of marine biodiversity in the Verde Island Passage. What was supposed to be an exploratory first meeting between the actor and CI Philippines turned into an extraordinary opportunity as it coincided with the arrival of the pawikan slated for release. The green turtle (Chelonia mydas) was recovered in Hagonoy, Bulacan by officials of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources. When asked if he wanted to participate in the release, the actor had no hesitations in saying yes.

The pawikan release is De Leon’s first activity as he joins Conservation International in campaigning for the protection and sustainable management of marine biodiversity in the Verde Island Passage. What was supposed to be an exploratory first meeting between the actor and CI Philippines turned into an extraordinary opportunity as it coincided with the arrival of the pawikan slated for release. The green turtle (Chelonia mydas) was recovered in Hagonoy, Bulacan by officials of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources. When asked if he wanted to participate in the release, the actor had no hesitations in saying yes.

“It felt great,” De Leon said, thrilled by the experience of personally setting the turtle free.

The pawikan was released in Balayan Bay, Batangas. The bay is part of the Verde Island Passage, the recognized global epicenter or “center of the center” of marine biodiversity: the area hosts the greatest concentration of marine species in the world.

As an avid scuba diver, the actor has been a long-time admirer of marine resources. His love of diving drove him to buy a house in Lobo, Batangas four years ago. He often makes it a point to go to Lobo to go diving or just enjoy a break, and his diving hobby became a natural take-off point towards a personal advocacy for marine conservation.

For one, De Leon has been working with the local government of Lobo in establishing a marine sanctuary in the municipality. Marine sanctuaries are areas that are set aside and protected from exploitation to allow marine resources such as fisheries and corals to regenerate and thrive. Numerous marine sanctuaries established all along the coast of Batangas help enhance fisheries and restore coral reefs, and these sanctuaries are also popular sites for scuba divers like De Leon. The actor also currently heads the ecotourism task force of the Lobo municipality.

“His interest and eagerness to be involved certainly opens up a lot of great opportunities for marine conservation,” said CI Philippines Country Program Director Romeo Trono. “Initiating meaningful partnerships is a key component for CI’s work in the Verde Island Passage, and we’re glad that Boyet has expressed willingness to help engage the entertainment industry in this endeavor.”

The Verde Island Passage is one of the marine biodiversity corridors that are the key areas of CI’s work for its Sulu-Sulawesi Seascape (SSS) Project. CI has been implementing the SSS Project in the Verde Island Passage for the past three years, working with local stakeholders and generating scientific information to guide conservation efforts such as establishing marine sanctuaries, strengthening marine law enforcement activities, and building capacities of local conservation managers.

De Leon’s involvement with Conservation International is expected to bring greater visibility to the biological richness of the area and highlight the need to protect its natural resources. The actor said that he aims to get other actors to support marine conservation efforts and promote ecotourism. His dream project is to film a documentary that showcases the wonderful dive sites in the Verde Island Passage.

It was a great first meeting for Christopher de Leon and Conservation International, which can only be the start of a lot of other great things to come for marine conservation. The pawikan that the actor just released into the sea can certainly use more of such efforts.