18 December 2019
By Dr Isabel Richter, University of Plymouth

Visiting the Blue Communities case study sites is a fascinating experience. Especially when you are given the opportunity to stay for a bit longer, diving into this whole new universe of South East Asian culture, your mission becomes more than research. Luckily, I managed to raise some funding by the ACU Blue Charter, which enabled me to extend my stay in South East Asia up to three months in the beginning of 2019.

I am representing project 12, led by Professor Sabine Pahl of the University of Plymouth. Together with Sabine, and Dr Elizabeth Gabe-Thomas of Plymouth Marine Laboratory, I am exploring how low income communities perceive the future and how working with scenarios might change not only their perception, but also their motivation for behaviour change. Further, we are investigating the effects of different means of environmental communication on different audiences.

My first destination was Kota Kinabalu, a town in the Northwest of Borneo Island, a few hundred kilometres south of our Malaysian case study site, the Tun Mustafa Park (TMP). After adapting to the never-ending heat and the local foods, I started building a network involving the local university, policy makers and NGOs. This gave me a feel for alliances and disputes in the region and taught me to be as impartial as possible to avoid stepping on anyone’s feet.

My first highlight was my visit to Kuala Lumpur to meet up with the Malaysian Blue Communities team. At the campus of the Universiti of Malaya we co-developed three future scenarios for the Tun Mustafa Park:  a business as usual scenario, a worst case and a best case scenario. Besides some expected prospects like an increase in pollution and tourism, dwindling fish stocks and coral bleaching, some new and surprising issues were discussed: our scenario protagonists (Salleh and Sofia) struggle with the rise of STIs, drug abuse and new viruses in the future – challenges that might require preventive and adaptive schemes. 

My favourite part of the workshop was the brainstorming session about potential solutions: from a zero waste community landscape in TMP, to the conscious inclusion of indigenous people, to a Shangri-La of South East Asia, nothing was left out. The Malaysian team blew me away with their knowledge and creativity and I am looking forward to take the next steps with them, which is repeating the scenario workshops in selected TMP communities next spring.
 
Building the 'Business as Usual' scenario in Kuala Lumpur
 
As an ACU Blue Charter Fellow, my mission was to investigate the situation around plastic pollution in Sabah. After conducting a comprehensive litter analysis, I got in touch with the ministry of Semporna, a region at the east coast of Sabah, planning to make their community plastic free. It was a big honour when they invited me as an external advisor and I was pleased to encounter huge interest for environmental communication by the minister and his colleagues. At the end of the day, they committed to evaluate the process of waste reduction in Semporna, together with us.
 The Ministry of Semporna is ready to combat plastic pollution
Sad to leave the spirit of Borneo but happy to move on to another exciting place, I travelled to Palawan and met up with the team of the Western Philippines University (WPU). For a time frame of two weeks we had ambitious plans. We started off with a study on environmental communication, conducted at the campus in Puerto Princesa with almost 200 high school students. Even when a total electricity blackout hit Palawan, our room reached 50 degrees Celsius and I was close to drowning in my own puddle of sweat, the WPU team pushed forwards and all data was collected successfully.

Next, we travelled up to Taytay, the case study site of interest for project 12. Here, we held a competition for local high school students in which the kids represented the three scenarios we co-developed with the local community in November 2018 either in drawing or by writing a song. The winners of this competitions painted “The Future of Taytay” on a wall at the entrance of the town and the winning song is being recorded in a music studio.

 
The young artists and WPU proudly present the Blue Communities mural
The drive and talent of the WPU team is unbeaten and my impression is that they will master every challenge, no matter how impossible it might seem. Right now, I am looking forward to face our next challenge, which is writing and publishing our first joint paper.
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