Aleja Genisan – PepSea Project Manager
A graduate of the Univeristy of the Philippines, where she studied Biology, Aleja joined the People and the Sea team in 2018 as Project Manager. She brought with her plenty of experince of working within the field of marine resource management having previously been employed with the Provincial Government as a Coastal Extension Officer.
Approaching two years with People and the Sea, Aleja has been instrumental in the continued growth and success of community engagament programmes. Luckily, in amongst it all, she still gets time to pursue a passion of hers – spending time underwater looking at nudibranchs!
What inspired you to pursue a career in marine conservation?
To be honest, I haven’t the slightest inclination towards marine conservation when I was starting my career! I started out as an academic researcher, aiming to develop culture technologies of heavily exploited seagrass-associated organisms (with sustainable harvest for the resource dependent families living in coastal areas in mind) rather than working towards organism-level conservation objectives. However, exposure to the relationship of the coastal communities to the marine resources, and my drive to understand such relationships so that I could better strategize our project’s approach lead me to spend more time with the community.
I have always tried to make the community I’m working with understand the complexities of academic research, and in doing so, they have taught me to appreciate the ecosystem services of the marine environment. This social drive pushed me to transition from focusing on laboratory-based, fully biological initiatives to a more practical, and fulfilling one.
What steps did you take/are you taking to achieve your career goals?
I have a degree in Biology. As I mentioned earlier, I started as an academic researcher. It developed my understanding of the biological (and scientific) interaction of the marine environment. I then landed a job as Extension Officer for the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), and my main responsibility is to focus on helping the community better understand their ecological, and economic dependence on the marine environment. I would call my stint with DENR as a “preparatory” for social aspect of marine conservation-strengthening marine protected areas by providing technical assistance and trainings to management boards, developing alternative sources of livelihood, sitting down with policy-makers, forming the province-wide alliance of protected areas. The academic and social trainings and experiences I got from those previous jobs were sufficient tools to get me where I am right now as Project Manager of People and the Sea
How did you land your current job/position?
I was following People and the Sea works since late 2017. I have been looking at NGO works related to marine conservation for a while and when I saw that they were posting a job for Project Manager, I grabbed the opportunity to be able to fulfil that long awaited dream. Being a Project Manager puts me in a position where I could really have practical and actual inputs in marine conservation strategies. The job also offers an opportunity to further my dive training, and with just below 20 dives under my belt, it was definitely an opportunity I don’t want to miss.
Which part of your job do you enjoy the most?
I am managing the community engagement initiatives of People and the Sea-Solid Waste Management, Environmental Education, Enterprise Development, and Fisheries Management. This includes engagements with local government officials, and the community-getting these stakeholders to understand the integrated approach People and the Sea put in place to achieve marine conservation objectives.
I especially enjoy doing People and the Sea project presentation, that special moment when you look at your audience’ face and they have this “aha!” look. Its some sort of confirmation that our approach works, and is appreciated from both ends of the stakeholders spectrum: the local community we’re working with, and the policy makers we are convincing of our approach, and in between, those supporters from local businesses, and other organizations we have built networks with
Are there aspects of your position which make you feel that you are really ‘making a difference’?
Yes! I started working with People and the Sea when the organisations community engagement strategies such as Solid Waste Management, Environmental Education and Enterprise Development projects were already in place and were well accepted by the community. I feel I really made a difference for our newest project: the Fisheries Engagement. For this new programme, I was involved from the very start, from the hiring process of the Fisheries Liaison Officer, to preparing the project workplan and identifying fisheries engagement strategies. Malapascua island economy is mainly dependent on tourism, but the fisherfolks still constitute a significant number in the community.
With government initiatives focused on tourism, the fisherfolks community are displaced, and with a lot of limitations for their source of livelihood with majority of their traditional fishing ground declared as dive sites, fishermen need to have a strong support system that would be their link between booth the businesses (dive shops) and the government. Since we started the project in April 2018, our fisherfolk engagements have been instrumental in introducing the People and the Sea’s other community engagement projects and in understanding the fisheries dynamics on the island.
What do you know now that you wish you knew when you were starting out?
I wished I had a lot more community engagement experince when I was starting. I did realsie it later, but doing it earlier should have made my job easier, and my work a lot more fulfilling. I came to realize that marine conservation is 10% biological science and 90% social science, as marine conservation objectives are mainly dependent understanding stakeholder’s perspective, engaging policy-makers, and social acceptance.
What advice would you give to budding marine conservationists?
Marine conservation is not just about trying to keep all marine organisms in the Ocean-untouched, and unutilized. Open yourself to the idea that people are part of the marine food chain, and to be an effective marine conservationist you have to learn how to center your initiatives on understanding the stakeholder’ perspective towards your conservation goals. This will save you a lot of frustrations, and make your work easier and a lot more impactful.
What is your favourite marine creature and why, and also, what is your most unforgettable moment in the sea?
N-U-D-I-B-R-A-N-C-H-S! They are tiny, colourful, and have a lot to offer ecologically. Kind of, like me I guess? Haha! But seriously, what diver doesn’t love nudibranchs?
Seeing a turtle for the first time! I was a novice diver and I was doing a benthic survey, focusing on my coral forms when suddenly there was this big shadow. When I braved a look, there was a green turtle carelessly cruising above me, having no care about a tiny-diver me. It was so humbling!