Here's How This 22-Year-Old Ocean Advocate Started His Own Social Enterprise
STORY: Joyce Chansingh
14 October 2019
At just 22, Nathaniel Soon is many things: he is a self-taught documentary writer, photographer, filmmaker and the founder of Our Seas, Our Legacy - a documentary collective and social enterprise - that engages communities and celebrates Singapore’s marine environments and biodiversity through storytelling.
Nathaniel is even a certified divemaster, an avid mountaineer, and an Ocean and Climate Youth Ambassador with Peace Boat - an international non-government organisation based in Japan. Plus, his works were featured on Asian Geographic, World Vision Singapore and Singapore Eco Film Festival too.
Motivated by his innate curiosity for the ocean, a love for visual storytelling and driven by the lack of publicity and awareness of local unsung marine conservationist heroes, the Yale-NUS college student founded Our Seas, Our Legacy last year. With the platform, he hopes to engage and inspire Singaporeans to protect and preserve our planet’s blue heart for our future generations and us.
Part of a series featuring young and inspiring Singaporeans who, in big and small ways, make a difference in people’s lives, we check in with Nathaniel Soon to find out what drives him to become an ocean advocate.
What got you involved in marine environmental problems? And tell us more about Our Seas, Our Legacy.
Our Seas, Our Legacy was born out of me wanting to find a job that would allow me to combine my love for storytelling with ocean exploration while being able to amplify the voices of those out there making a positive impact [to minimise marine environmental problems]. Well, there wasn’t one. So I founded Our Seas, Our Legacy, and the rest is history. Today, I see it as a platform to engage communities, communicate ocean and climate science and amplify voices for our oceans through what I love - storytelling.
What have been your most memorable experiences?
For one, I got to shoot and produce a short film, Tiny Heroes of Our Sea, in Brunei, featuring the reef life in conjunction with Oceans Day this year! Who would've thought that a 22-year-old would be able to almost single-handedly pull this off? This month (September), the documentary film will be launched on all Brunei Airlines in-flight entertainment. A big win for ocean storytelling!
I also got the chance to represent the Indo-Pacific region as this year's Peace Boat Ocean and Climate Youth Ambassador, sailing across the Atlantic Ocean from Malta to New York while stopping along small island nation states to communicate and champion for ocean and climate conservation. Most importantly, I got to meet my heroes: the legendary ocean explorers Sylvia Earle and Fabien Cousteau as well (in pictures)!
Do you think public awareness of marine environmental problems is getting better?
Yes, definitely. But I see a great impetus to build awareness from early education i.e. primary schools, which is why I’ve also started “The Ocean Connection” - an ocean literacy programme that I plan to push out to primary schools in Singapore. The aim is to get students to become more aware and active in their participation of ocean conservation efforts. We were successful with our first kickoff project with Lianhua Primary School recently!
You’re currently pursuing your undergraduate studies in environmental anthropology. Was it a conscious decision from young to pursue this speciality?
I knew I wanted to pursue a path in the social sciences, and worked my way around anthropology-related projects when I was in junior college. But for a long time, I felt something was missing. I soon found a lot more meaning when I combined my curiosity for understanding human dynamics with the natural world. Understanding both the environment and humanity required an appreciation of their interdependence. Environmental anthropology became an interest of mine. A lot of resources are being poured into understanding the science of the environment, but I feel ultimately the ones in control and whose behaviours largely shape our interactions with the natural world are us, human communities - an area definitely worth devoting effort into.
How do you juggle your time with school, conserving our marine environments and other creative pursuits like photography, filmmaking?
Great question; I'm entirely worn out for the most part. But I love what I do, and in actuality - from filmmaking, working with corporates, traveling, diving, speaking to individuals and participating in programmes, I've been learning a lot as well and through this process have become better informed about ocean and climate issues. That's learning for me as well! So, there's really nothing much to balance when it comes to pursuing other interests with school, it’s all about prioritising which avenues allow you to maximise that learning and the pursuit of your passions.
You can follow Nathaniel on Instagram to see more of his photography and keep up with his pursuits
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