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A tremendous amount of grief” washed over A.G. Saño in 2010 after watching “The Cove,” a documentary by Ric O’Barry that exposed dolphin trade and slaughter as well as the cruelty of captivity and dolphin shows that has been happening in different parts of the world. The artist in him prompted the environmental activist to paint a mural that featured the exploited sea creatures, to turn the spotlight on their plight.

“One wall led to another and before I knew it, I was traveling the world and painting wall after wall after wall, giving talks about the environment to different communities and conducting art sessions to people of all ages,” Saño said.

The first mural was done in Camiguin Island in the Babuyan group of islands north of the Philippines. There were only 10 volunteers. “They were all part of the Humpback Whale Research team of Balyena.org,” he explained.

Fast forward to 12 years later, Saño just finished mural No. 1,000 in Bali, Indonesia, the present home of O’Barry’s Dolphin Project. A few weeks before the 1,000th mural was completed, the nonprofit organization dedicated to the protection and welfare of dolphins reintroduced three former circus dolphins into the sea.

From just a handful of his friends and colleagues as volunteers in the beginning, Saño’s initiative has grown to 250,000 volunteers from at least 65 countries. The volunteers are now mostly composed of complete strangers who just wanted to take part in the art advocacy.

The artist with the recently completed mural no. 1,000 in Bali, Indonesia —@whaleboy2000 Instagram

According to Saño, there was never a plan to paint a thousand murals from the get-go. “It was the response of many people and organizations that fueled the movement. It was spontaneous and organic,” he said.

100-ft Darna and Captain Barbell

When the COVID-19 pandemic happened, he knew that the project would face challenges. Saño then asked the administrators of the building where he lives if he can do a mural that would pay tribute to front-liners. They were immediately supportive.

“With the help of my mountaineer/climber friends, we rigged the building with ropes and painted a 100-ft portrait of Darna and Captain Barbell donning PPEs and scrub suits to symbolize the heroism of doctors, nurses and other medical front-liners during the pandemic,” he explained.

Saño with mural no. 1 in Camiguin Island
Saño with mural no. 1 in Camiguin Island

His group then volunteered in making personal protective equipment, food and seed distribution around Metro Manila. This gave them access to many communities which allowed them to also pursue their mission of spreading marine conservation awareness. “In cases when we didn’t have mural sessions outside, we conducted public online art sessions to help ease the burden of lockdown,” he said.

What’s next after mural No. 1,000? “I wish I could finally start earning a living on a regular basis again. But if murals will be a way for other environmental issues to be heard, then I guess that’s what’s next,” said Saño, who left his job as an OFW back in 2008 when he took on the challenge of conservation work. “We are facing too many environmental emergencies to stop advocating for their mitigation.” INQ



He has painted 1,000 murals for marine conservation – Vigour Times

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