Katrina Kendall: Looking towards nature to protect biodiversity

Photo from Katrina’s official Facebook

Growing up, Katrina Kendall was exposed to two worlds: the lush tropical ecosystems in the Philippines, and the beautiful parks and great outdoors in the United Kingdom.

In the Philippines, particularly her hometown Cagayan de Oro in northern Mindanao, she also witnessed extreme environmental changes. In the dry season, she would watch fishponds dry up and the soil crack under intense heat, only to be lashed by strong typhoons and monsoon rains in the wet months.

These diversity of experiences have sparked Kendall’s strong interest in protecting and conserving the world’s natural resources.

The 32-year-old British-Filipina is best known for her stint in the pageant world, when she bagged Miss Earth England in 2015. But Kendall, a scientist by training, was not simply vying for a bejeweled crown, but for a platform to forward positive environmental change.

“I understood that pageantry in the Philippines was super powerful and a big platform for advocacy and to be able to inspire or make change,” she said. “I never knew anything about pageantry at all, and so I just decided to go for it.”

That leap has since proven to be successful. Today, Kendall is a leading environmental ambassador, working with several organisations that advocate for ocean protection and biodiversity conservation. She also serves as a Department of Environment and Natural Resources protected areas ambassador for the Mount Kitanglad Range Natural Park in Bukidnon province.

Kendall is also among the prominent environmental advocates who have joined the #WeAreASEANBiodiversity campaign of the Asean Centre for Biodiversity. The campaign aims to raise public awareness and mobilise support for biodiversity conservation across different sectors.

Solutions from the environment

At present, Kendall is busy further deepening her knowledge in biodiversity work. She is currently taking her doctorate at the University of Oxford, researching the effectiveness of nature-based solutions, with a focus on the Philippines and the wider ASEAN region.

“I realised that I wanted to develop my knowledge even further. I wanted to be more an agent for change,” she said. 

The International Union for Conservation of Nature defines nature-based solutions as actions to “protect, sustainably manage and restore natural or modified ecosystems, that address societal challenges effectively and adaptively,” while also providing benefits for human health and biodiversity.

Kendall said her study was initially focused on mangrove ecosystems, but she decided to broaden her scope and explore solutions to address climate change and sustainable developments in the Philippines.

“We know that [having] protected areas, restoring mangrove ecosystems are good for the environment, but in terms of data perspective, it’s quite limited,” she said. 

Her research, she said, aims to look closely at the value, limits and evidence of effectiveness of these solutions to ensure that they receive proper attention, funding and policy support.

The current literature, she added, shows a lack of evidence on the effectiveness of nature-based solutions in Global South in general, and particularly for tropical ecosystems. She hopes that her research will contribute to filling that gap.

“There’s also a lack of evidence that is accessible to policymakers in a way that is easily understood and can be translated for effective action,” Kendall said. 

More to be done

The establishment of well-managed protected areas, such as the ASEAN Heritage Parks (AHP), is already a significant step forward towards ensuring healthy ecosystems. 

But a lot more should be done, said Dr. Theresa Mundita Lim, ACB executive director, in a press statement for Earth Day 2022.

“An initial assessment among the AHPs reveals that Cambodia, Lao PDR and Myanmar have annual funding gaps at an average of USD 1,400,000; 800,000; and 1,250,000 respectively, for the next 10 years,” she said, adding that there is a “urgent need” to continue mobilising support for these ecosystems.

In the Philippines, several efforts that can be classified as nature-based solutions, such as ecosystem-based adaptation or disaster risk and recovery, are already underway, Kendall noted.

Understanding priorities, potential barriers and knowledge needs can further support these programs, she added.

“I see them as holistic solutions, particularly when we don’t have much time and there are a lot of challenges that we are facing,” she said. “So we need these types of solutions that can help address multiple things at the same time.” 

Nature-based solutions, Kendall emphasized, should also be codesigned, implemented, and monitored with the consent of local communities to be truly successful.

“Strengthening local capacities can really help, making sure that powerful traditional ecological knowledge of local communities and indigenous peoples are incorporated and uplifted,” she said.

While still very early on in her research, the scientist-slash-beauty-queen already looks forward to potentially organising workshops and learning opportunities with Filipinos back in her home country to hear their perspectives and learn from their experiences as well.

If all goes well, she hopes to potentially scale up her project across the ASEAN region.

“Biodiversity is what underpins all life on earth, so if we harm biodiversity, we harm ourselves. That’s why, from a fundamental perspective, we have to protect and conserve it,” Kendall said.