Youth in conservation: Why this generation is more connected to nature than you think

The young people of today are more involved and invested in environmental conservation than ever before.

Seems like a bold and biased statement? Maybe it is. Regardless, it’s something I’ve personally noted over the past few years studying in the field. More undergraduates are studying environmental science at my university every year. I’ve seen environmental groups and organizations effectively rally together passionate individuals – who are all youth. Many of these groups are led by people I look up to. Capable, intelligent, people who excel at what they do, and who also happen to be, you guessed it – youth.

And one of these groups are Projek Waste. I won’t introduce them because if you’re reading this, you’re on their website and you already know what they do, right? I have them to thank, along with Selva’s Untold Stories, for organizing a short but meaningful conservation expedition to Langkawi. Having the chance to connect with like-minded individuals was a refreshing feeling, and being guided by mentors who were experts in their own fields certainly meant learning so much about conservation from them.

The starting point for Uncle Selva’s mangrove expedition set between Langkawi’s breathtaking geologic outcrops.

But, beyond the technicalities of learning birdwatching, of talking about the importance of mangroves for humans, and beyond the excitement of possibly encountering wildlife on a night hike, I think I’ve brought home something more intangible from this trip.

I think I realized that being in conservation means so much more than having the knowledge of conservation.

Bro, what do you mean by that? Beyond practical conservation knowledge, we all have qualities that make our own approach to conservation slightly different. Although Elis Ishak, a skilled nature guide and birder, had been on the same trails and seen the same bird species countless times before, her enthusiasm that whole morning was as though every bird we spotted was a new species. Uncle Selva, our mangrove specialist, was such an animated storyteller. I’ve heard the whole ‘mangroves are vital ecosystems’ talk before, and Uncle Selva’s approach to imparting what he knew about Langkawi’s mangroves was different, almost inducing spiritual connection to these wetlands at the end of the day. And Hidayah Halid, a leader in marine conservation, was able to ask some questions that really made me reflect, something that I don’t do too often. It honestly caught me off guard. “What do you actually want out of being in conservation, personally? Because it’s for sure not the money. You care about the environment, great. But what else is in it for you?” she asked.

A morning well spent birding with Elis, part of which was under the rain

Realizing these different qualities that these mentors had made me think: “Don’t we all have untapped qualities within us, unique to ourselves?” And I think this is where youths come in. Yes – the lost, unsure, inexperienced, and unhinged youth working in conservation, probably lacking in knowledge but radiating with potential, waiting to utilize their untapped quality in their own special way in this great big conservation space.

But the statement at hand is contradictory, isn’t it? How can the youth of today possibly be connected to nature? We are an urban generation. Birthed into condominium units in the heart of KL. Growing up in traffic jams on 4-lane highways, and staring into rectangular screens for most of the day.

Personally, here’s what I believe: That despite all that, youth continue to seek out nature. We continue to seek better understanding of environmental issues, we continue to fight for environmental causes, and we continue to raise awareness of the need of environmental conservation.

We are zealous environmental advocates, trying our best to use our unique qualities for Mother Nature, despite many of us never actually having known her.

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Matthew Vergara
Matthew Vergara

Matthew Vergara is a city kid at heart, but one who always had a calling to be involved in environmental conservation. Always ready for a meaningful adventure, he had been involved in extended scientific fieldwork in a forest reserve in Perak, on the muddy mangrove banks of the Malaysian west coast, and above the coral reefs of Perhentian Islands. He currently works at Fuze Ecoteer, a social enterprise geared towards connecting people to nature through low-impact travel, whilst benefiting local communities.

Matthew Vergara
Matthew Vergara

Matthew Vergara is a city kid at heart, but one who always had a calling to be involved in environmental conservation. Always ready for a meaningful adventure, he had been involved in extended scientific fieldwork in a forest reserve in Perak, on the muddy mangrove banks of the Malaysian west coast, and above the coral reefs of Perhentian Islands. He currently works at Fuze Ecoteer, a social enterprise geared towards connecting people to nature through low-impact travel, whilst benefiting local communities.

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