Blue Water Heroes Awards crown Asia’s eco-pioneers
Environmental leaders from Indonesia, Myanmar and Malaysia were winners at the Blue Water Heroes Awards, part of the first Blue Water EduFest in Singapore’s ONE°15 Marina Sentosa Cove.
Blue Water Heroes Awards winners with the judges
Melati Wijsen, co-founder of the Bali-based social initiative Bye Bye Plastic Bags, Thanda Ko Gyi, founder and Director of Myanmar Ocean Project, and Dr Louisa Ponnampalam, Executive Director and co-founder of Malaysia’s MareCet Research Organisation, were the winners of the inaugural Blue Water Heroes Awards in Singapore.
The awards recognised individuals and organisations who have made significant contributions to marine conservation and were held as part of the four-day Blue Water EduFest at ONE°15 Marina Sentosa Cove. The winners received a cash prize and additional benefits in a bid to assist them in further developing their causes, including the provision of access to industry experts and more.
Melati Wijsen, Bye Bye Plastic Bags
Melati Wijsen, who received S$10,000 as a cash prize, was just 11 she and her sister started the social initiative, Bye Bye Plastic Bags, raising awareness of the issue of plastic waste through education, campaigns, engaging the community, and even involving policy makers on their initiatives.
“I’m shocked, grateful and touched at winning this award,” she said. “I’m so inspired by the stories of the other finalists, too. No matter which stage I stand on or classroom I’m in, I want every young person to be able to see themselves in my story. I believe every young person can be a changemaker but may not know where and how to start, and I hope to help them on this journey.”
Thanda Ko Gyi, Myanmar Ocean Project
In Myanmar, Thanda Ko Gyi works with coastal communities connected to the ocean. Through the Myanmar Ocean Project, she pioneered research on understanding how abandoned, lost or otherwise discarded fishing gear in Myanmar contributes to oceanic plastic pollution and worked with coastal communities to understand their perspectives before educating and involving them.
To date, she has overseen the removal of over 1,800 kilograms of harmful fishing nets from marine ecosystems, saving hundreds of marine animals.
“I’m very grateful for this and to be present among everyone I admire here,” said Thanda Ko Gyi, the first runner-up, who won S$6,000 as a cash prize. “I’ve been lucky to be given the opportunity to do what I do, and I’d like to give others more opportunities in Myanmar to see the ocean the way I have.”
Dr Louisa Ponnampalam, MareCet Research Organisation
Dr Louisa Ponnampalam co-founded the MareCet Research Organisation, which is the first and only non-profit NGO dedicated to the research and conservation of marine mammals in Malaysia.
With her efforts centred around protecting marine mammals and their fragile habitats, she has taken her efforts further to build a platform for developing local conservation leadership talent. There, she works closely with various stakeholders to optimise conservation outcomes for all involved, motivated to promote ocean stewardship within society at large in Malaysia.
“Through our work, we hope people will value the ocean,” said Dr Ponnampalam, who won S$4,000 as the second runner-up. “I’m very fortunate that I’m living my childhood dream. I’ve learnt that compassion, empathy and hard work are important. And people are at the centre of conservation.”
Desmond Lee, Minister for National Development and Minister-in-Charge of Social Services Integration
The Blue Water EduFest started with the two-day Ocean Collective Summit, which opened with a welcome address by Arthur Tay, Chairman and CEO, SUTL Group, owner of the ONE°15 brand.
Desmond Lee, Minister for National Development and Minister-in-Charge of Social Services Integration, was the event’s Guest of Honour. He delivered a speech about the Singapore government’s efforts and projects, as well as plans to solidify sustainability efforts and nurse local waters to health, demonstrating nationwide commitment towards marine and coastal conservation.
Fabien Cousteau (centre) with Jay Wade (SeaKeepers Society) and Julian Chang (SeaKeepers Asia)
Jay Wade, Chairman and President of The International Seakeepers Society, gave the opening address before Fabien Cousteau, the world-renowned oceanographic explorer and environmental advocate, delivered the keynote speech on the opening morning. Cousteau was among VIP guests at the Blue Water Heroes Awards.
The Blue Water EduFest event concluded at the weekend with over 100 volunteers participating in a marina clean-up, as ONE°15 Marina relaunched the annual after a two year-hiatus due to the pandemic.