Despite growing up in the mountains of the Philippines, Camille Rivera was always fascinated by the ocean. And after working in research and non-governmental organizations, she came to realize the great need for them to be protected — especially the mangrove forests.
“It is a very undervalued ecosystem compared to its neighboring ecosystems such as coral reefs,” said Rivera, one of the Global Landscape Forum (GLF)’s 2021 Restoration Stewards. “There is also less transfer of scientific knowledge [relating to mangroves] to the public, which means that awareness of their importance is not dispersed to local communities.”
Mangroves bring a lot of benefits to nature and communities. Their dense roots bind soils and prevent coastal erosion, filtering nutrients while mitigating local flooding by absorbing storm surges. They also provide an important habitat for young fish, as well as absorbing carbon dioxide. Yet these forests are frequently cleared for development, dredged, and polluted by chemicals released in the water.
In response to these threats, Rivera co-founded – and now directs – Oceanus, a marine conservation organization in the Philippines that serves as a base for the global GLFx community‘s Mindanao chapter. To date, Oceanus has trained more than 200 people in mangrove technology, planted nearly 8000 mangrove seedlings, and used technology to monitor forests. Rivera would also like to one day set up a marine conservation and research center to widen the impact of Oceanus’ projects.
Rivera has recently been named a National Geographic Explorer, and is researching the use of mobile phone software by local communities to monitor mangrove forests. “What better way to do this than to leverage citizen science – especially local communities – to contribute and help with data collection and verifying mangrove species?” she says.