ISTS Asks: Blue Water Hero

4 min read

Some would remember Mathilda D’Silva as one of the finalists on Singapore Idol 2006. This year, she is also a Blue Water Heroes top ten finalist.  The Blue Water Heroes Awards celebrates and recognizes those who have made substantial contributions to marine conservation. The award ceremony was held on 3 November, 2023 during the Blue Water Edufest at ONE°15 Marina in Singapore. More on the Blue Water Edufest in our previous article here.

Mathilda D’silva founded the Ocean Purpose Project (OPP) in 2020, proudly a Pasir Ris based social enterprise for ocean pollution issues.

What was your motivation for OPP?

I would have never guessed that my life as a performer, social media and TV producer and competitive (dragonboat) paddler would have changed so drastically. After a water pollution incident at an overseas race left me with intense autoimmune conditions, I decided to channel my energy into creating a platform for unique projects that could solve the same ocean pollution issues that made me sick. Research has proven that long term exposure to pollution is linked to a heightened risk of autoimmune disease, particularly rheumatoid arthritis, connective tissue and inflammatory conditions.    A vision of creating “ocean purpose projects” for the world was born. My journey with autoimmune diseases was indeed a turning point in my life. It wasn’t a sudden epiphany but a gradual realization of the pressing issue at hand. As a social media lead and a TV producer for over a decade, I didn’t want to just raise awareness; I wanted to take action with science-based projects. My personal struggle motivated me to find innovative solutions to tackle ocean pollution, leading to the creation of Ocean Purpose Project. 

Could you briefly introduce OPP and its projects?

Ocean Purpose Project is not just another awareness campaign; it’s a hands-on initiative that bridges action, awareness, and deployment. The project has three main pillars. The first focuses on cleaning ocean plastic at scale, converting it into low sulfur fuel and hydrogen. The second tackles chemical pollution through bioremediation, working with fish farmers to grow seaweed and mussels that absorb chemical pollution and transform it into bioplastic. The third pillar emphasizes education and behavioral change through online and offline campaigns, shifting mindsets and encouraging sustainability. Our goal is to create a movement that drives ocean conservation and plastic pollution prevention via disruptive and creative projects at mass-scale impact. The disruptor style of OPP follows after me the founder where we are constantly not content with the status quo and work to combining sustainability, sports, music, entertainment, marine research and behaviour change activities that are extensions of our CEO’s multi-faceted style and strengths. 

How has the community been involved and has it been effective? For example, are the seaweed bins properly used?

Community involvement is crucial for Ocean Purpose Project’s success. Through beach clean-ups and awareness campaigns, they have engaged with local communities, raising awareness and encouraging active participation. As for the seaweed bins, constant volunteers and the community’s support are vital. When communities actively participate, the impact is significant, leading to cleaner oceans and a more sustainable environment.

Despite a global pandemic and 2020’s tsunami of challenges, Ocean Purpose Project represented Singapore as the global finalist of Climate Launchpad organised by the European Union, as EPPICC UNDP finalist for United Nations Indonesia and is the first social enterprise accepted into the Shell Start-Up Engine for our OPP Plastic to Fuel unit. We won Most Sustainable Marine Conservation Solutions 2020 by Global Brands Magazine and were finalists for two Marketing Excellence Awards 2020 – clinching Silver in Corporate Social Responsibility for our project with migrant workers in Singapore. In  2021, Project White Sands was selected as one of just 37 projects to be funded by the first grant call of the SG Eco Fund and most recently, APAC Insider’s  Singapore Business Awards 2022- Most Pioneering Ocean Plastic Mitigation Initiative 2022. Our greatest award is the love and partnership we receive from the community of indigenous people s, ecosystems, islanders, fishermen, cleaners and grassroots leaders who we serve on a daily basis–honouring the knowledge they possess of our coastlines. 

What can locals do to support?

Locals shouldn’t feel they need to be a famous eco-influencer to do their part. Support is vital in helping the vision of Ocean Purpose Project grow. We need more people supporting our monthly community beach clean ups that feature Singapore’s only solar powered DJs to make things fun. They can also support our OPP Seaweed Bioplastic garbage bags made from species that grow in Pasir Ris when they actively participate in beach clean-ups- spreading the message that sustainability should not be a “follow the trend, surface” activity but have real innovations and operational viability. OPP is self-funded which makes it difficult to construct and pilot our $9 million dollar projects like the OPP Plastic to Hydrogen unit–mobilising the community to support the initiative financially, if possible, will help a lot. By embracing sustainable practices in their daily lives and encouraging others to do the same, locals contribute to the larger goal of banishing plastic from oceans. I feel the solutions are here; what’s needed is the collective will and commitment to move them forward. Together, with the support of the community, we can create a pollution-free ecosystem for current and future generations.

Interviewed by Lydia Konig


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