Resources
Tuesday, 10 February 2015
Guardians of the Sea by Katrina Ong

Relying heavily on the environment in which they culture pearls, Jewelmer pearl farmers make it their mission to enrich their home turf through its foundation, Save The Palawan Seas.

Jewelmer is a voyage of French pearl farmer Jacques Branellec and Filipino entrepreneur Manuel Cojuangco, who met and connected through the beauty of the rare South Sea pearl, ?a symbol of harmony between man and nature.? The two visionaries established the pioneering, reputable, and fully integrated luxury brand grounded on its deep sense of humanity, and a responsibility to Mother Nature.

Established in 1979, Jewelmer harvests the world?s most exceptional cultured golden South Sea pearls from their pearl farms in Southern Palawan and creates the finest jewelry from them. But beyond that, it is company that commits itself in protecting and enriching the coastal communities and marine environment of its farms. It is a company that has not only made marine conservation its corporate social responsibility, but also its way of life.

Hence, in 2005, Cojuangco and Branellec founded Save the Palawan Seas Foundation (SPSF), a non-profit organization that aims to procure alternative sources of livelihood for the coastal communities while protecting and enriching the environment, and to create long-term conservation programs for Palawan?s ocean resources. It is also committed to educating the local fishermen in the provinces about the risks of destructive fishing and agricultural practices.

Meaningful livelihoods

Through its Baras Marine and Agriculture Research Center (BMARC), SPSF has facilitated several projects in Sitio Calabugtong, in the municipality of Taytay, Palawan, that include organic vegetable farming, cashew processing, handicrafts using native and recyclable materials, and raising free-range chickens. Fishing used to be the main source of livelihood in the area, but dynamite and cyanide fishing drained its marine resources.

On November 20, 2008, the beekeeping program began. Volunteer French bee experts taught the locals of indigenous Mulbog and Palawan communities how to produce valuable bee products such as honey, propolis, and wax, while conserving the area?s healthy bee colonies.

In the same year, SPSF organized organic vegetable farming that allowed families to plant organic vegetables in their backyards for themselves and to sell produce to their neighbors for income.

Seaweed farming was also established to benefit 600 families from five barangays in the municipalities of Balabac and Bataraza, reducing the appeal of dynamite and cyanide fishing, thereby increasing fish population and marine biodiversity.

Environment conservation

Moreover, SPSF is teaming up with other organizations such as Earth Rights, People?s Rights (ERPR) for the preservation and improvement of ancient lands and resources of indigenous people?s groups, and Reef Check Philippines and the World Wide Fund for Nature-Philippines for marine life orientations and coral reef watch. Other environmental programs include coastal clean-ups, tree planting, and education campaigns. It is also engaged in community building activities like the annual Nutrition Month, Indigenous People?s Day, and World Food Day.

During the destructive Typhoon Haiyan in 2013, SPSF organized a three-phase rehabilitation program to reconstruct the houses of over 400 families from 37 barangays in Busuanga Palawan and Bantayan Island Cebu. It has currently completed two phases of the program.

SPSF pushed pearl farmers to totally immerse and develop a deep sense of connection with their host community. ?In the process, we have been transformed from entrepreneur to community facilitator and mover, from businessman to father, brother, and spiritual adviser,? says Manuel Cojuangco. ?And the greatest feeling of satisfaction comes from the many interactions and relationships that have been built and forged through shared adversity as well as success.? Jewelmer believes that its pearl farmers should go beyond being stewards of creation, and make it their mission to enrich the seas and communities they work in.

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