A call to redeem the reefs and a celebration of life, last Saturday witnessed the official launch of the Sea Paradiso Foundation. Charlie Gamboa and his foundation partners Paul Fernandez, and Sandy Syjuco were present for the launch, along with the project’s other key players: visual artist Fil Dela Cruz whose lifesize creations were used to anchor the replanted corals, marine biologist Homer Hernandez who oversees the reef rehabilitation in Mabini, Paradiso Rito’s very own dive instructor Bobby Manas, foundation director Eric Punzalan, and executive coordinator Elijah Veridiano. The evening was also graced with the presence of the legendary Dr. Edgardo Gomez, national scientist and professor emeritus for marine biology at the University of the Philippines Marine Science Institute.
Held in Bellevue Manila, the momentous occasion was attended by family and friends to the cause. Among the guests were Manila Water Company CEO Gerry Ablaza and wife Lani; Metrobank Foundation president Chito Sobrepena and wife Anna; Migz and Nancy Zulueta; and Jun, Wilma, and Matt Mendiola, early supporters of the Spark Project.
The reef through the lens
Surrounding the venue were beautiful underwater photographs featuring the hidden world beneath the waters of Mabini — macro shots of the thriving marine life that has taken over the artificial reef that the Sea Paradiso Foundation has built in the past year. All of these stunning images were captured by noted photographer Penn De Los Santos, who has agreed to document the progress of the reefs for the cause. Penn explains that the unique and intentional composition of his subjects, which are often off-center, are meant to communicate that when you are in the world of the magnificent creatures he photographs, you are to conform to their space, not the other way around. “You are not supposed to touch anything, nor move anything,” he said. Through Penn’s work, the guests of the evening were able to take a peek into the treasures of the Verde Island Passage, the very world Sea Paradiso is working hard to protect.
A couple of Penn’s award-winning photographs were up for sale during the launch, along with pieces that were selected especially for the event. His personal favorite? His photograph of a pufferfish who has made a now unrecognizable piece of plastic, the creature’s new home under the sea. A definitive proof that nature always finds a way. Before the night ended, one of his photographs found a new home — a wild splash of greens — the close up of a marine creature’s eye was bought by the couple, Migz and Nancy Zulueta.
“A life of significance”
The evening event, which doubled as the birthday celebration of founder Charlie Gamboa, began with a short but heartfelt message to his guests: that for his second half of life, he wishes to live a life of significance. His contribution to the world would be the continued restoration of the reefs of Mabini, beginning with his own backyard, Paradiso Rito.
National artist nominee Fil Delacruz, a proponent of the foundation and the artist behind Jesus and The Apostles, life-size underwater structures in front of Paradiso Rito that are now full-fledged coral reefs, also lends his thoughts during the evening. He says that joining the project came naturally and that he has never found more meaning in his art. “The ARTifical reef is an interactive work between the artist and nature,” he tells the guests. “I initiated an image then nature took over”
Dinner was filled with tales of lives of purpose but perhaps the most enthralling story of the evening belonged to Dr. Ed Gomez. He tells the fascinated crowd of the decimated population of the true giant clam in the Philippines in the 70’s, and how he brought a plastic bag filled with microscopic clam larvae from the Indian Ocean through two airports back home. Dr. Gomez and his colleagues are credited for restocking our seas with the Philippine Giant Clam which has now reached thousands in numbers across the country.
Redeem the Reef
Raffy Francisco’s Redeem the Reef was also premiered during the event receiving a warm reception from the guests. The short film takes us to Mabini, Batangas and tells us the story of Sea Paradiso’s beginnings: the discovery of the barren ocean floor in front of Paradiso Rito, the locals’ sentiments about the abused waters, and how Charlie and his partners came together to formulate a plan. The documentary ends by showing us how the artificial reef looks now: a sanctuary for diverse marine life. Raffy tells the audience that the short film is “a story of hope in the best setting ever”.
Sea Paradiso Foundation’s future plans
Georgia Gamboa took over the end of the evening announcing that Charlie Gamboa has secured a Marine Reserve Agreement from the local government of Mabini, Batangas, protecting the area where the rehabilitated coral reefs are.
She also presented Sea Paradiso Foundation’s future plans which include the construction of an underwater Basilica in Balai Isabel — a structure that will provide a home for countless marine species and help generate funds for the foundation to continue its work; the Spark Project, an adopt-a-clam project which will aid the proliferation of giant clams in the coast; and programs that will continue to educate the locals about the importance of protecting the seas.
As a response to the foundation’s call to redeem the reefs, guests of the launch pledged their donations to the cause with a promise to spread the word about Paradiso Rito and the world it fights to nurture and protect.