• Working as a citizen scientist

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    Albert and his Philippine Eagle mascot

    Albert and his Philippine Eagle mascot

    What does it mean to become a “Citizen Scientist”?

    Albert Balbutin Jr., a graphic artist/web designer, who recently became a member of Haribon Foundation, coined the term to describe his contributions to the organization.

    “I participate in volunteer activities, outreach events, and birdwatching adventures.

    By doing so I give Haribon’s mission one more pair of hands to help plant seedlings, pass out membership brochures, or to help spot elusive and beautiful animals unique to this country to people both young and old. Haribon’s mission is to be an ‘organization committed to nature conservation through community empowerment and scientific excellence.’ I may not be a scientist, but I do enjoy empowering the community with facts that come from its scientific community. By doing so I am acting as a ‘citizen scientist,’ and I enjoy helping others do so too.”

    So far, Albert has helped in transplanting seedlings, and maintained newly-planted trees, under the Rainforestation Organizations and Advocates or ROAD to 2020, a multi-lateral effort that aims to reforest the Philippine forests with native trees. At the Buhay Punlaan site, Albert was able to learn firsthand how the seedling maintenance process was like and the importance of using trees that are native to the reforestation area. “If exotic or non-native trees are used, the local flora and fauna won’t flourish in that location due to their dependence on trees that their ancestors depended on for food and shelter for millions of years.”

    At the moment, Albert is keen on promoting the importance of biodiversity and the forests that keep them via Road to 2020.

    “The Philippines hosts a wide array of species that contribute not only to its unique tourist attractions [from coral reefs to butterfly sanctuaries]but also to food, water, and shelter for all Filipinos. We are currently down to a fourth of our forests, while land-use management [or the lack thereof]has contributed to the widespread damage during the rainy seasons year after year. Both are interconnected: the trees hold soil and absorb rainwater in the highlands reducing the death and damage made by mudslides and floods. By working on this campaign, we hope to save lives and preserve our biodiversity, which should be easy because they are interconnected. But it is difficult because human beings have yet to see that connection themselves,” he shared.

    As Haribon’s social media expert, Albert feels that his biggest contribution yet is in sharing what he learns from his work almost every week. “I repost Haribon Facebook updates and tweets, and even blog about my experiences with the organization as well.

    I’ve learned that it isn’t just about the ‘big successes’ that drives progress. To make a big impact that is sustainable and long-lasting, it’s actually all about the small contributions we do every day.”

    When asked about his wish for the environment, Albert says he wants the Forest Resources Bill to be passed, also the National Land Use Management Act and the Alternative Minerals Management Bill. “It’s about time that people stopped looking at such legislation as ‘tree-hugger bills,’ but as the power strips to our life support systems. The last thing I want happening is that a hundred years from now our grandchildren will be cursing our graves because we didn’t act as early as we did, given all the evidence and all the resources we had today.”

    Albert grew up in Daly City, California as an “80’s baby.” During his college years he began to explore his Filipino heritage, doing light research on various topics about the Philippines including (but not limited to): history, art, design, fashion, food, culture and heritage. He worked as a web designer in Silicon Valley for 11 years, and after visiting the Philippines almost every year between 2007 and 2009, he made the move to the country in June of 2012. He is now the graphic artist and web designer for Haribon Foundation.

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