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On Water: A Community for Change

On Water: A Community for Change

Dec 23, 2022

Clockwise: Judges of Blue Water Heroes Awards, Chong Seow Wei, Arthur Tay, Dr Toh Tai Chong and Harlin Singh(extreme left and right, and first and second from right,respectively) with the finalists and winners from left to right: Deo Florence Onda; Kyle Morgan; Marcellinus Jerry Winata; Dr Louisa Ponnampalam (3rd place); Thanda Ko Gyi (2nd place); Melati Riyanto Wijsen (1st place); Samantha Thian; Dr Neo Mei Lin; and Dave Albao. 

“Alone, we can do so little; together, we can do so much,” said Helen Keller.

That was the prevailing emotion on the evening of 4 November at ONE°15 Marina Sentosa Cove’s Blue Water Heroes Awards. The inaugural awards that recognises and celebrates those advancing the quest for marine and coastal conservation was part of Blue Water EduFest 2022.

The event is the brainchild of Arthur Tay, Chairman and CEO of SUTL Group, which owns the marina, conceived with the objective to raise much-needed awareness and promote the urgency to heed the call for action on climate change.

Blue Water EduFest was a way for ONE°15 Marina to garner strong support to advance the “Blue Water movement”, as he termed it, “in close collaboration with the governments and industry partners in the region”.

Changemakers of Today

The four-day event featured a two-day The Ocean Collective Summit conference headlined by ocean conservationist and filmmaker Fabien Cousteau, grandson of the legendary Jacques Cousteau. It reached a crescendo with Blue Water Heroes Awards—created by ONE15 Events
Management and powered by Gen.T of Tatler Asia Group. Ten young conservationists from around the region—scientists, academics, founders and co-founders of non-profit organisations dedicated to conserving our waters and the lives it supports—were selected as finalists for the Blue Water Heroes Awards. They were picked as the top contenders through a quantitative grading process that gauged the scope of their work, research and data procured, reach and scalable impact created, and vision for the future. The judges panel, aside from Tay himself and Chong Seow Wei, Editor, Gen.T Asia, comprised of industry leaders in sustainability such as Uma Sachidhanandam, Deputy Director of Conservation (Singapore) at WWF-Singapore; Harlin Singh, Global Head of Sustainable Investing at Citi Private Bank; professor Benjamin Horton, Director, Earth Observatory of Singapore at Nanyang Technological University; and Esther An, Chief Sustainability Officer at City Developments Limited. Dr Toh Tai Chong, Senior Lecturer and Associate Director of Studies at the National University of Singapore, who is also the Club’s Eco Advisor was part of this esteemed panel as well.

One Cause, One Community

The finalists—three were from Singapore—  flew in from Malaysia, Myanmar, Indonesia and the Philippines, to support each other and prove their solidarity to the cause. Three winners were picked at the end of the evening. They were, in the order of place, Melati Riyanto Wijsen from Indonesia, Thanda Ko Gyi from Myanmar and Dr Louisa Ponnampalam from Malaysia.

Regardless, all the 10 finalists who had gathered at the glass tentage on the grounds of the marina that night, were irrevocably heroes and heroines in their own right. Their expertise, ages and creative drive may be varied, but they were all united in their drive and determination to be at the forefront of change, which was evident in the video presentation that was played at the event.

As Tay mentioned in his welcome address for the evening, each of them have made a difference in the lives of many, and through their work, “many people and communities have come to understand the impact of our actions on the behaviour of our planet”.

The video showcase was complemented by a soulful piano recital by 10-year-old prodigy Mikkel Myer Lee, and the night ended on a high with a performance by one of Singapore’s most respected jazz vocalist, Joanna Dong. The evening’s ceremony was gracefully led by renowned local presenter, Denise Keller. Guests and the finalists mingled and shared notes over choice tipples and artisanal canapés. The meticulously curated offerings were predominantly prepared using sustainably-sourced ingredients under the supervision of Chef Steven Hill, the Club’s Head of F&B.

The Blue Water Heroes Awards is about the “blue” lungs of the Earth, but in the end, it was about the power of people coming together for a common cause. As winner of the first place, 21-year-old Melati expressed, being in the midst of likeminded changemakers relayed the message to other youngsters like her that they were not alone; “that there are so many of us working towards change”. “Conservation will not happen if we do not work together. We all have a role to play whether you are CEO, teacher or a young person like me.”

Meet the Winners

Left to right: Dr Louisa Ponnampalam (3rd place); Thanda Ko Gyi (2nd place); Melati Riyanto Wijsen (1st place)

1st place: Melati Riyanto Wijsen
Founder, Bye Bye Plastic Bags and Youthtopia

This 21-year-old’s fight to save our planet and its oceans began in 2013 at the age of 12. She co-founded Bye Bye Plastic Bags (BBPB) with her sister Isabel with the aim to abolish single use of plastic bags in her hometown, Bali. Through awareness and education campaigns, the initiative provoked policy and mindset change. BBPB is today one of the largest youth-led organisations in Indonesia and has over 52 volunteer led teams in cities round the world.

“I started with absolutely no business plan, strategy or funding, but I had a clear idea of the impact I wanted to create,” she said, during her acceptance speech.

This clarity has been her guiding principle and helped put her on the world stage in conservation, from cochairing global conferences to sitting in advisory panels.

In 2021, Melati starred as the chief protagonist in the fi lm Bigger Than Us, directed by French director Flore Vasseur and produced by Marion Cotillard—it follows her on a journey around the world in search of like-minded peers to join her mission. Premiered at Cannes Film Festival, the film was nominated for a César.

2nd place: Thanda Ko Gyi
Founder, Myanmar Ocean Project

A passionate diver, Thanda Ko Gyi decided to dedicate her life to marine conservation after witnessing firsthand the devastation a single fishingnet could cause to marine life. Shefounded Myanmar’s first non-profit ocean conservation organisation, Myanmar Ocean Project (MOP) in 2018, and in 2019, with support from the National Geographic Society, Ocean Conservancy and Global Ghost Gear Initiative, set out with her team on a year-long expedition into the country’s Myeik Archipelago to find out more about Abandoned, Lost, or Otherwise Discarded Fishing Gear (ALDFG). In 11 months, the team extracted over 1,800 kg of harmful fishing nets from 89 dive sites. She also works closely with local fishing communities to find out how the degradation of marine ecosystems impacts their way of life.

Thanda’s quest to save marine biodiversity was propelled by her love for manta rays, but she explained how her work with MOP opened her perspective. “At first it used to be about the fish and ocean, but I realised that it’s also about the people and the community. If their survival needs are not met, we cannot expect them to talk about the ocean,” she said matter-of-factly. Her ultimate quest is to create opportunities for others in Myanmar to see the ocean as she has been able to.

3rd place: Dr Louisa Ponnampalam
Co-founder, Marecet Research Organization

A Cetacean ecologist by education, Dr Louisa Ponnampalam co-founded MareCet Research Organization (MRO) in 2012, Malaysia’s fi rst and only nonprofit NGO dedicated to research and conservation of marine mammals and the promotion of marine stewardship.

The organisation has since engaged more than 4,000 students through various outreach and education programmes, and is recognised globally for its work in the conservation of marine biodiversity. In 2019, three of its field research sites were recognised as Important Marine Mammal Areas by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

For Louisa, what started as a way to channel her love for dolphins since childhood, has become a life’s mission.

“I hope that through our work people will realise the value of our oceans and be motivated to take every day steps to conserve that which supports us,” she added in her acceptance speech. “Conservation is about perseverance and strategy, but also the people—we are at the heart of the problem and the solution.”