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Shelfwalking: 6 Books That Helped Shaped My Advoca-Sea

by Anna Oposa

When I was asked to write about six books that helped shaped my advocacy as a marine conservationist, I was thrilled. I have so many books related to it! My shelves are home to titles like Conservation Science, The Optimistic Environmentalist, The Sixth Extinction and Marine Conservation Biology.

I then realized I have never finished any of the books I just mentioned. I have a (bad) habit of buying environment-related books and reading the first few chapters, then losing interest. I only pick them up again when I need a reference. This is not because the writing or content is awful, but because after a long day of, say, working on a marine protected area, writing grant proposals, or attending meetings, I’d rather lie down with a book that’s not related to what I do. For instance, I’m now reading Morgue: A Life in Death by Dr. Vincent Di Maio and Ron Franscell, and before that, Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert.

And so, this is my disclaimer: the six books I share with you are not all directly related to my advocacy, but instead have influenced and inspired the way I advocate.

bookbed anna oposa 6 books that shaped my advoca-sea

1. Law of Nature and Other Stories by Atty. Antonio Oposa Jr.

My dad started writing this book when I was 10 and published it when I was 15. It’s about different environmental laws in the Philippines, but explained through stories, with photos and lines from poems and songs. In between those years, he would ask me to read drafts of the chapters. If there was a word or concept I didn’t understand, I had to tell him so he could revise it. That also became my first experience as a copy editor.

For my dad, environmental law should be accessible to people of all ages and backgrounds, and this is a lesson I have carried with me since. I consider myself as a storyteller of the seas, and I do my best to make marine conservation issues fun, pun-ny and relatable to an audience wider than scientists and advocates.

2. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

bookbed rebecca skloot the immortal life of henrietta lacks

This, for me, is an outstanding piece of science writing. To paraphrase the synopsis from the website, Henrietta Lacks’s cells, taken without her knowledge, became one of the most important tools in medicine that has been sold and bought over and over again for groundbreaking research, but her family has never received any benefits from it. They can’t even afford healthcare.

The book raises troubling questions on ethics, race, law, science and medicine. I found it disturbing, in the best way possible. It taught me that it’s okay to ask questions we don’t have answers to. “The only way to live is to be in a perpetual state of disturbed,” I once heard. It’s those troubling questions that keep us up at night, but also inspire us to work harder and embrace the question marks, interrobangs and ellipses.

3. The World is Blue by Sylvia Earle

Finally! A marine conservation book!

Dr. Sylvia Earle, sometimes called “Her Deepness,” is a living legend in marine science and conservation. In The World is Blue, she narrates the losses and destruction she has witnessed over several decades. I quote this book a lot during speaking engagements. There are chapters on wildlife, mining, exploration, climate change, chemistry and governance, showing how interdisciplinary and interrelated the problems and solutions are. Her prose resonates with positivity, and if the Dr. Earle can remain defiantly optimistic about the future of our oceans, we can too.

4. The Failure of Environmental Education (And How We Can Fix it) by Charles Saylan and Daniel T. Blumstein

I came across this book while writing my MSc dissertation, which was on environmental education in the Philippines. It’s about how America requires environmental education in schools, and yet it’s still one of the most wasteful societies and biggest polluters. What, then, are they doing wrong? How can it be fixed?

The book goes on to discuss how environmental education shouldn’t just teach concepts, science and theories, but must also empower individuals to think critically and make decisions that help and not harm the environment.

Environmental education should also be experiential, inspiring and fun. This book affirmed and influenced the core values of the Sea and Earth Advocates Camp, the environmental education and leadership project of Save Philippine Seas targeting the youth. One of the dreams I’m working towards is to integrate the experiential, inspiring and fun kind of environmental education in our country’s curriculum.

5. Bossypants by Tina Fey

bookbed tina fey bossypants

Bossypants is one of my all-time favorite books because Tina Fey tells it like it is. In addition to being a laugh-out-loud book, it taught me valuable lessons in leadership, being a female boss and being a boss. The last two are different from each other, but not necessarily mutually exclusive. I run a tiny NGO (and by that, I mean it’s just me and one project manager), but it involves leading large projects and campaigns that can be province-wide, regional or nationwide. We engage all kinds of people and politics. Here are two exceptional reminders from Bossypants:

“In most cases, being a good boss means hiring talented people and then getting out of their way.”

“Don’t waste your energy trying to educate or change opinions; go over, under, through, and opinions will change organically when you’re the boss. Or they won’t. Who cares? Do your thing, and don’t care if they like it.”

6. Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed

I was once brainwashed into thinking that being a doctor or lawyer was the only legitimate career option. I studied BA English Studies in UP Diliman (initially thinking it would be a pre-law course), and recently finished my MSc in Conservation Science at Imperial College London. I’ve been told that I wasted my brains for studying in top schools but taking courses that won’t make money, or pursuing careers that are “not real” and have “no benefits.”

While the struggle to make money for myself and Save Philippine Seas can sometimes be real, I always go back to these lines from Tiny Beautiful Things:

“You don’t have to get a job that makes others feel comfortable about what they perceive as your success. You don’t have to explain what you plan to do with your life. You don’t have to justify your education by demonstrating its financial rewards… [A]pply yourself in directions for which we have no accurate measurement. I’m talking about work. And love.” ☁

This Shelfwalking feature is for Celebrate The Sea Month. #LokalAtNatural

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Anna Oposa is the Co-founder, Executive Director and Chief Mermaid of Save Philippine Seas, a non-stock, non-profit organization that aims to protect and restore the country’s coastal and marine resources. She inherited her love for reading from her parents, who are both voracious readers. Anna’s mom used to buy her one book a week and taught her how to use a dictionary before her school did. Anna has worked as a writer, editor and copywriter for various publications, and has co-written a workbook entitled An Introduction to Climate Change for Filipino Youth. Follow her adventures and misadventures on Twitter and Instagram at @annaoposa.

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