By Francis Xavier D. Verdadero
Her name is Carina. I imagine her parents named her after the constellation of a keel. But even if they hadn’t, in so many ways, Carina was like a boat’s keel, sturdy and unyielding – slicing through any and all seas.
I first met Carina in 2012. She was training would-be EcoDivers in Culion, Palawan, Philippines. The class was in the middle of discussing the substrate survey. I watched as Carina struggled shifting between the English and Filipino language to teach, with the former being more prominent.
I noticed that the trainees were struggling too because neither English nor Filipino were their native language. Although the trainees picked up some English and Filipino, their native dialect was Cuyunin. But what struck me the most was the class’ willingness to try and understand one another. They did so with great curiosity, persistence, and fun – qualities which I will learn much later on to be at the heart of every Reef Check training I would be in. The evenings of that training were equally filled with social activities. After dinner, an environmental film or documentary would be shown. And this is when deep conversations take place, where the formalities of the morning lectures disappear. This is the time when you see people who deeply care for the environment, especially the coral reefs and seas, exchange stories and experiences in conservation and its many challenges. And this is how I started to get to know Carina as a person who is really passionate about the environment, but most especially the sea.
Carina’s way of life, of living for the seas, began when she became a SCUBA diver. In the 1980’s and 90’s, she became the second PADI Instructor in the country, and the first female at that. Carina’s excellent skills in the water assisted her craft of becoming an underwater cinematographer. She filmed for television advertisements, environmental documentaries, and big-screen films.
For environmental documentaries, her most famous work was on The Tuki Chronicles, which tell the story of the tourist attraction of hand-feeding whale sharks in Oslob, Cebu. As for films, Carina worked together with Marissa Floirendo to capture the breathtaking underwater shots of the multi-awarded film Muro-Ami.
In between her work as a professional SCUBA diver and cinematographer, Carina also played a critical role in developing the whale shark tourist industry in Donsol, Sorsogon. Because of Carina, many locals were educated about the importance of conserving marine habitats and the whale sharks. This education empowered the communities to take heart, and take pride, in their wildlife tourism that greatly impacted their lives and livelihood.
Just a few years before 2010, Carina discovered Reef Check, and had devoted her life to the organization ever since. Carina was one of Reef Check Philippines’ enduring EcoDiver Trainers. From 2010 until 2017, Carina trained and certified 204 EcoDivers. She was also involved in 121 Reef Check surveys, acting as either Team Leader or Team Scientist. And her involvement in the coral reef monitoring of the Malampaya Foundation Inc. from 2013-2014 has led to a scientific article that she co-authored.
On February 28, 2021, Carina passed away. Reef Check Philippines is deeply saddened for the passing of one its champions. She will be sorely missed. But we will forever honor Carina by continuing to educate and empower Filipinos, that they may lead or play vital roles in conserving their seas and coral reefs, for future generations. Carina lived by Reef Check’s mission. And Reef Check Philippines is hopeful because Carina, the keel, has sliced through the sea of life, and generated small but prevailing waves of dreams and aspirations for future environmentalists and conservationists.