Young Eco-Warriors and the Disney Friends for Change Project

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The Young Eco-Warriors (YEW) are a team of 66 Filipino youth that are working with PATH Foundation Philippines, Inc. (PFPI) and the Disney Company to protect important marine biodiversity areas in the Philippines and to improve the lives of disadvantaged fisherfolk who depend on marine ecosystems for food and jobs.

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Fishers who typically earn less than $2.00/day are the poorest sector in Philippine society and their children rank among the most under-nourished in the country. The situation for fishing families is getting worse because their traditional fishing grounds are over-fished and because the habitats that fish need to survive (coral reefs and mangrove trees) have been destroyed. Another reason is the high rate of population growth in rural coastal Philippines where families often have 5-6 children to feed. Population growth drives consumption of more and more fish and Philippines marine fisheries can no longer meet the demand. These and other factors -- including climate change, are causing a crisis in food security among fisher families in the Philippines.

Figure 1. Boy chewing on a fish bone. Children in fisher households often go hungry because their parents can no longer catch sufficient fish to feed their large families.

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The YEWs are helping to raise awareness about these issues and what can be done to reverse the situation. To get their point across, the young volunteers wear T-shirts which graphically illustrate the crux of the problem "Too Many Fishers and Not Enough Fish." Their illustrated T-Shirts depict a typical fishing family with 7 members who are looking down at a dinner table with only one small fish to share amongst them.

The YEWs wear this T-Shirt whenever they go into the schools or community to talk with others about how to change the situation. One solution they advocate is for young people to become stewards of the marine environment, and to delay early marriage and pregnancy and to finish high school so they will have a better chance to pursue jobs other than fishing.

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Another solution the YEWs identified is to replant trees in upland watersheds that are connected by rivers to coastal bays and coral reefs. Tree-cutting in watersheds has contributed to erosion and siltation of downstream reefs which kills the corals -- without which fish can not survive. The YEW organize other youth in their villages to help plant trees in the watershed which helps to reduce erosion, prevent siltation and promote a healthy environment for fish to grow.

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YEWs are also tackling illegal fishing practices in their communities which are not only harmful to the fish and corals but also dangerous for fishermen who use dynamite, cyanide and other poisons to extract live fish. By staging creative information campaigns, the YEWs are helping to stimulate local action to stop illegal fishing practices and improve the marine environment.