With the world’s leading divers and eco marine tourism business and thought leaders coming to town for ADEX 2019, we talk to Monica Chin, Director of ADRECC, an environmental organisation in Asia, about her journey and how she’s protecting the marine bio-diversity of Asia.
Underwater360: Could you tell our audience more about yourself, what inspired you to go into this field & your journey from a kid enraptured by diving to becoming a co-founder of Trash Hero Borneo and now Director of ADRECC?
Monica Chin: I live in a small town name Kota Belud located at Sabah North Borneo, East Malaysia. It’s a 15-minute drive to beautiful white sandy beaches and a 15-minute drive to riverside clear water river flows from Mount Kinabalu, which is surrounded by virgin jungle. I was exposed to the ocean and nature since I was one years old. My parents love outdoor activities like island hopping, fishing, jungle tracking, riverside camping and exploring new islands back in 1980’s. I remembered when I was a kid, my weekend family activities would involve taking off to the South China Sea and spending an overnight boat trip fishing with my parents. I’ve never had fears swimming in the open, deep sea. Swimming in a clean, crystal clear seawater with dolphins and duyongs, I saw many huge pristine coral reefs. Once, I saw six huge whale sharks passing by my dad’s fishing boat.
I remember my first time holding my breath underwater with my late mom in year 1989, watching a duyong family enjoying their meals. Fishing along the mangrove river with my dad was another amazing experience. I love mangrove jungles so much and the smell of the muddy area. Today, what we see are piles of trash hanging on the mangrove trees! There is too much trash along the mangrove shore line.
This year (2019), sadly, I can’t see any places like what my back yard used to look like. I tried to show things I’ve seen many years ago to my son when he turned three years old. I felt sorry and disappointed the picturesque nature of my youth is not around anymore. The beaches I use to play on when I was five or six years old is full of trash. It really broke my heart and I asked myself how I can fix this from getting worse. That led me to where I am today.
I’ve dived in so many places, witnessed the sea changing from pristine to being filled up with floating trash and I’ve seen the worse up close under the sea at depths of 18 to 27 metres. That pushed me to do something to save the ocean and marine life.
I joined a beach cleanup in Krabi, Thailand during my dive trip back in September 2014. I saw the opportunity and an effective way to create awareness among the community in my home land in Sabah, North Borneo. I immediately started teaching a small group of kids living nearby my hometown by the beach. At Moon Bay Beach for three years, I committed myself to leading them on beach cleanups, coral planting, seagrass planting and taught them why marine life is essential to them. On Februay 27, 2017, I was officially appointed as the international volunteer leader and co-founded Trash Hero Borneo.
I wanted to do more for the earth and I resigned from my position as volunteer leader in January 2019 after two years of massive volunteering with Trash Hero. This year, I want to fully utilise my passion in a bigger platform called the Ara Dinawan Research Education Conservation Center (ADRECC). ADRECC is an environmental marine conservation organisation consisting of affordable accommodation, an educational section, research, work station and dive centre, that is in the midst of setting up. Its Board of Directors are experienced scuba divers, nature lovers with the same dream of contributing and preserving the ocean’s marine life and green environment for future generations.
Monica Chin, Director of ADRECC talks about plastic pollution and ADEX
uw360: What are some of the most surprising things you’ve learnt about yourself and others in your journey in diving from a learner to a teacher to now a co-founder of Trash Hero Borneo？
MC: The most surprising things I’ve learnt about myself is how I’ve become so passionate about every single living thing on this planet, so protective of the ocean, marine and wild life. If I have a small chance, I would plant a tree wherever I go! I’ve become so emotional over heartbreaking pictures in social media. Some people think I am too much but I don’t think so. I just want to protect all of them so badly! I do wish that I have a big super magic hand to turn everything back in time – change all the bad to good; Transform the ocean from dirty to clean! Yeah, I know I’m crazy.
The others in my journey? Well, I can proudly say that most of them have changed their mindsets and are trying to do the same things I do. They realise how important it is to keep our ocean planet clean and save all living things on this planet. There are some of them who just ignore everything. They say I’m a crazy diver who can’t do anything to clean other people’s trash and change the mindsets of others while saving all life (animals). Some say I’m stupid for teaching uneducated rural kids and stateless kids to become “smarter”. The negative statements thrown my way are too numerous to mention.
To me, as long as I’m alive, as long as I can breathe underwater, be able to speak and walk, no one can stop me for what I am doing now. I will keep educating all kids and share all my knowledge with those who wish to learn, and teach and guide them. I believe one fine day, I’ll witness huge changes and all humans will do more than what I am doing now. Kids are the future. We cannot stop educating them. That’s why we need to protect our ocean planet. Am I crazy? LOL
uw360: Do you have any memorable stories you can share with our audience?
MC: Yes, I have. Many were so surprised and they ask why I am doing all this without getting any pay and many of them wanted to help contribute in any way as well and they give their full support whenever I need them. Most of them are so encouraging and so supportive.
uw360: In your travels while diving, instructing or working on eliminating water pollution, how has plastic pollution impacted the places you’ve been to, products you’ve worked on or policy and strategic planning for the future?
MC: Huge impact! People are just too slow to understand the urgency of removing, reducing and eliminating trash from the water. But in my city, after two years volunteering and organising 126 cleanups, people have started to duplicate our good deeds which is great for keeping awareness going.
I’m not working on any policies currently but if I am given a chance, I would love to. As for strategic planning for the future, I will continue what I have been doing for the past five years and will actively involve myself in related programmes in addition to learning more from international experts. I’m focused on exposing and involving our programme people, especially our local community. I believe we will start from our own land and set them as a living example.
uw360: The diving industry actively advocates for sustainable marine tourism. Which of the two do you think would make more of an impact – reducing/eliminating marine tourism altogether or encouraging sustainable marine tourism?
MC: Of course encouraging sustainable marine tourism.
uw360: Going forward, where do you see the diving industry heading towards?
Diving industry is growing active. We need to control and set a strict policy in order to sustain the ocean ecosystem. All dive operations should set strict guidelines on teaching new diver to be 100% responsible scuba divers toward the underwater world and all marine animals. Otherwise, everything will be gone real soon. Additional policy, rules and regulation will be good.
uw360: What are your plans for ADRECC?
ADRECC will be open for collaboration and partnerships with all international experts in any kind environmental marine conservation programmes, activities, courses, research and education centres. We are open for new opportunities. ADRECC want to be one of the leading environmental marine conservation platforms in Asia contributing to our one ocean planet and to our future generations.
uw360: What do you see the diving industry and ADRECC ultimately transforming into?
Serious good partnerships in collaboration working together protect, preserve and conserve saving the ocean planet. One voice for One ocean!