When I arrived on Danjugan Island with thirteen other campers, I had no idea what to expect. All I knew was that I had signed up for a week-long camp, the Danjugan Island Environmental Education Program (DEEP), during which I would be learning about environmental conservation through team-building, games, snorkeling, and other activities. I also knew that staying on Danjugan this way wasn't very common. Danjugan Island isn't a resort, but a Marine and Wildlife Sanctuary, meaning all life and nature on the island and in its seas are legally protected.
After the first few days at camp, I realized that the lack of electricity and water didn't bother me as much as I thought it would. None of us once took out our cell phones or even thought about doing so. In our free time, we entertained ourselves with riddles, brain twisters, art projects, games of ninja on the beach, and good old conversation. On the last day, we all found our cell phones in our backpacks and were stunned that we hadn't remembered they were there all week. Without Snapchat or Instagram to distract us, we all grew a lot closer than I'd expected us to over the course of five days.
The island's most important rule was "Leave No Trace"—take only pictures, leave only footprints, and kill only time. We left everything exactly as it was, taking all trash we produced, if any at all, back off the island with us.
For the week, we all tried to live as sustainably as we possibly could. We were each given one bucket of water a day to shower with, a quantity we initially thought to be extremely insufficient. After the first day, however, we suddenly realized how little water we actually needed to use. We ended up using only thirteen buckets a day for a camp of fourteen people, and had a lot of fun trying to share buckets and showering outside in our swimsuits.
Because the island was a marine sanctuary, the oceans were teeming with all sorts of creatures—including those that poisoned, bit, pierced, and stung. A small barracuda lived hidden under the waters of Moray Lagoon, stinging fire coral was sprinkled all throughout the coral reefs, and we spotted poisonous black-and-white banded sea snakes while snorkeling. We were taught how to act around these creatures, and although they did get our adrenaline pumping while in the water, they turned out to be harmless.
Throughout the week, we listened to lectures on coral, fish, and climate change. We trekked through the forest, went bird watching, or snorkeled and kayaked over the island's coral reefs, learning how to identify different species of fish, coral, and birds. At night, we would gather under the stars for scary stories on the shore.
One activity we participated in was a beach clean-up. The camp split up and collected trash from around the mangrove roots and one small beach. We collected way more trash than I expected to, including some plastic bottles from Japan and Indonesia! We learned how long it would take each piece of trash to decompose and how the littlest things can have a huge impact on the environment. After that, we all made a pact to ask specifically for drinks without straws when we got back to Manila, a practice I've kept up until now.
By the end of the camp, we had all grown very close and learned a lot. The lectures and lessons had a lasting impact on us all; I, personally, became and remain very passionate about saving the dying coral reefs in our country.
"I definitely became more eco-friendly and aware after the camp," says Enrica Lim, one of my fellow campers. "It really opened up my eyes. After camp, my friends and I started bringing recyclable containers to school and gave up eating sushi since we learned it added to the overfishing problem."
For fourteen kids accustomed to the city-slicker lifestyle, none of us would hesitate to revisit Danjugan for another chance to go DEEP.
What are you doing to help save the planet?