Rising from the Depths: A Personal Odyssey to Protect Our Oceans

Mathilda D'Silva's journey is a testament to resilience and the transformative power that can lie under personal experiences.

Her life story so far is one marked by a series of diverse pursuits that include environmentalist, eco-entrepreneur, social media expert, TV producer, radio host, musician, and dragon boat racer.

Upon completing a double major in broadcast journalism and screen studies at Murdoch in the early 2000s, Mathilda returned to Singapore, where she carved out a successful career in the media industry. Over the course of a decade, she produced current affairs shows for Singapore's national broadcaster, Media Corp, and lent her skills to two radio stations. However, it was an unexpected turn of events during her dragon boat racing expedition in the Philippines in 2015 that became the catalyst for a profound shift in her life.

In just three days of competition, Mathilda found herself exposed to the harsh reality of polluted seas, an encounter that led to the development of an incurable auto-immune disease. Exposed to chemicals, raw sewage and harmful algae, Mathilda acquired three auto immune conditions within a week. Her hair and skin turned white within a month, and she lost her voice for six months, not ideal for a TV and radio career. After months of rehabilitation, this personal crisis spurred her to action, propelling her to establish the Ocean Purpose Project (OPP) in 2020, with a small but dedicated team. OPP, under Mathilda's visionary leadership, has evolved into a social enterprise championing creative and impactful projects with a mass-scale focus.

One notable initiative spearheaded by OPP is the advocacy for Plastic Pyrolysis, a revolutionary process that transforms plastic waste into fuel. The organization has diversified its efforts to encompass a range of activities, from beach clean-ups to plastic-to-fuel conversion and bioremediation. Collaborating with local Indigenous farmers, OPP is developing innovative systems that leverage aquaculture farming to produce biofertilizers and bioplastics.

Situated along Pasir Ris Beach, OPP operates out of Singapore's first off-grid beach office, powered by solar panels. This commitment to environmental sustainability has not gone unnoticed on the global stage. OPP represented Singapore as the global finalist of Climate Launchpad, an initiative organized by the European Union, and made history by becoming the first social enterprise accepted into the Shell Start-Up Engine for its OPP Plastic to Fuel unit. Mathilda's leadership was further recognized when OPP received the Most Sustainable Marine Conservation Solutions award in 2020 from Global Brands Magazine.

Beyond organisational success, Mathilda actively engages in raising awareness about marine conservation efforts and seaweed innovation at the international level. In 2022, she was invited to speak at prestigious events such as the UN OCEAN Conference in Lisbon, the COP 27 Conference Energy Day in Egypt, and the G20 Side Event: Ocean Purpose Project Seminar on Green Economy and Sustainable Business under B20 Indonesia.

Mathilda has channelled her personal and life-altering experience into a force for positive change. Her dedication to effecting meaningful transformations in environmental conservation is underlined by her pragmatic approach. In her own words, "Oceans don't get saved with just a Netflix documentary, fancy TikTok, or panel discussion at a high-profile event."

Mathilda's commitment to finding solutions is evident in her focus on swift action based on science, operational achievability, and solution engineering—an ethos she believes is far more impactful than a well-crafted social media post. As she succinctly puts it, "It's always impossible until it's done."

In the ever-evolving landscape of environmental conservation, Mathilda D'Silva stands as a beacon of innovation and determination, showcasing how a personal journey can fuel a global movement spearheading a more sustainable future.


Q&A with Mathilda

What did you love about working in the media?

Working in media is an art form guided by passion and dedication. Your 9-5 is about turning ideas into reality, turning a word, a fleeting concept, an emotion, into a show, a film, an article, a song, that brings jobs for close to 100 people - pre and post production staff whose livelihood will depend on your vision. It’s about seizing opportunities, persisting despite obstacles, and valuing sincerity. It has prepared me for the often lonely journey of entrepreneurship that fights the establishment daily, defies rigid rules, embraces the unexpected and celebrates what it means to live on Planet Earth through a tapestry of emotions, creativity, and resilience.

How did you come to accept that you had an auto immune disorder that was unfixable?

I don't think I have accepted it. Some days it is a terrible frustration for someone so used to being in control of my mental and physical faculties and having so much confidence, to spend 2 hours on some mornings like yesterday struggling to move my feet to the side of the bed. How do you accept your own body when it turns on you? When it causes you pain and heartache every day? The only way forward is for me to do my best, building solutions that I hope can fix the wrongs of ocean pollution and tell myself - "hey, you were not in control of what has happened, but you are definitely in control of your response to the hand you are dealt." I'm no Oprah or Mother Teresa, but this helps me to find a step towards acceptance.

What achievement are you most proud of?

For most of my life, my mother and I never understood each other's character, industry or work style. For a fit 70 year old who has had cancer 5 times, I am most proud of this little company that we have built together. Me and mum don't sit and have high tea and shop to bond. We go on site to factories, wear hard hats and discuss power and transport turnkey project implementations as our "mother daughter time". I am so proud that I can do this alongside her and find a new way for us to articulate what strong, smart females who are "sick" can do. I'm most proud of my mother.

Do you still love to sing?

I sing every week! In fact that's my time to relax and switch off. I sing anything from jazz to heavy metal to strange oohs and aahs on trance music - I work on ocean waves in the day and sound waves in the evenings. 


Posted on:

29 Nov 2023

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