Photographer Gab Mejia has an eye for capturing the planet’s raw beauty, from Patagonia’s glaciers to Mindanao’s marshlands. He can also convey the unending struggle between development and conservation, such as what is happening with Manila Bay’s white sand makeover.
The 23-year-old storyteller for National Geographic looks for solutions: how to stop the construction of buildings and structures from damaging the environment. During a recent assignment to Agusan Marsh, he documented the tension between food production and preserving the land of the Manobo indigenous people.
“I remember reading that Manila could have been the Paris of Asia, and it really could have been if it was managed properly,” Mejia told reportr.
“It could have thrived as a metropolitan area where natural and urban spaces could have co-existed had it not prioritized urban development at the expense of the environment. And the same could happen to those wetlands if we don’t get our act together,” he said.
In another assignment, he saw how armed men set wetlands on fire to clear them for industrial use. In Patagonia on the tip of South America, he saw glaciers melting at an unprecedented rate due to climate change.
“The lives of indigenous people are really at stake,” he said. “Being able to immerse myself and know these problems actually had a lot of stress involved. But the real trauma is in these communities.” In Sultan Kudarat, he said he once received a phone call from a plantation owner denying that his business damaged the environment.
Here are some Mejia's Agusan Marsh photos that reportr is using with his permission.
'GREENWASHING MANILA BAY'
Unless the Manila Bay project is stopped, it will suck up more dolomite rocks from far away communities to crush and pass off as white sand, green groups said. The original source, Cebu’s Alcoy town, has ordered a stop to dolomite mining.
An act of “greenwashing”, Advocates of Science and Technology for the People (AGHAM) Diliman called it, claiming that the project attempts to hide other profit-oriented reclamation projects in Manila Bay.
In 2019, Manila ranked 103rd most liveable out of 140 major cities in the Global Liveability Index. Plagued year by year by water crises, a consistent decline in air quality, and traffic congestion due to a lack of a scientific and well-coordinated urban rehabilitation plan.
Mejia also stressed the need for a serious effort to clean up the Pasig River, another symbol of urban pollution.
“I think we need to see this window of opportunity for us to work with different sectors not just as individuals that can benefit from a clean river, but as a whole thriving city from all these different municipalities,” he said.
The COVID-19 crisis, which dramatically changed urban life in the last six months, highlights the interconnectedness within nature, he said.
“In this crisis, in this pandemic, human health is really connected to the health of the environment. We wouldn't have this pandemic if we weren’t illegally trading wildlife. This is an opportunity that we have to take now, we have to do it now,” he said