Category Archives: EN

Tanvi Hussain, Livelihoods in balance with wetlands

Healthy wetlands provide food and fodder for the species and people living around them. But over-exploiting these resources can lead to degradation, which in turn, affects the communities living on the wetlands.

“Conservation in rural context means creating livelihood opportunities for the poor while in urban areas it is about convincing people to be more sensible about their lifestyle.”

Getting the balance right is a major challenge for the Indian village of Hatimuria, which relies on a wetland called Bherbheri Beel in the state of Assam. Tanvi Hussain, a 29 year-old wetland ambassador, PhD student and scientist from the region works on natural resource conservation with the communities who live around this wetland.

“I am deeply moved by the wonderful balance of nature but distressed by the dilapidated condition of many such wetlands, forests and other areas. Conservation in rural context means creating livelihood opportunities for the poor while in urban areas it is about convincing people to be more sensible about their lifestyle,” says Tanvi.

Bherberi beel during sunset.

Tanvi is a Project Scientist as part of a state government organisation Assam Science Technology and Environment Council (ASTEC) which works with central and state government. She part of a project to build the resilience of the community of Hatimuria dependent on the Bherbheri beel – beel being the local term used for wetlands and ponds in Assam – and help it adapt to the impacts of climate change.

This involves making livelihood activities in the village such as farming, water harvesting, irrigation of farmland, cattle rearing, energy sources “climate friendly”. We work together with the residents of the village and help them to become aware of the impacts of climate change and prepare them for climate change induced threats, says Tanvi.

“After the fishing period harvest all the remaining fish were caught by pumping out the water in the wetland, lowering the village’s ground water table and contributing to water scarcity.”

One particular focus has been to help villagers have a better understanding of how the wetland functions and how it is connected to water availability. Tanvi explains that the auctioning off of the wetland [harvest] during the fishing season to local businessmen led to a practice that was contributing to degradation. After the fishing period harvest, all the remaining fish were caught by pumping out the water in the wetland, lowering the village’s ground water table and contributing to water scarcity.

“The auctioning off of these wetlands and diversion of water has also been putting South Asian river dolphins, migratory birds, other animals and plants at risk and locals are ill-equipped to deal with the changes. That is why we want to help them,” she says.

Local workshop to inform people about the importance of their wetland and how to keep it clean.

As part of the efforts to raise awareness, ASTEC is issuing handbooks on the local biodiversity. Children are being taught about climate change and resilient practices, while local youth are taught skills such as wild bee-keeping and honey extraction, bamboo craft and nature walks – practices that can help sustain the balance across the wetland.

Women are being supported to boost income through weaving. Creating these sorts of alternative livelihoods will helps boost villagers’ financial conditions, which avoids the need to auctioning off the wetland for monetary benefits.

“Hatimuria will serve as an example to encourage other villages to get involved with the council’s supportive measures and to become self-sufficient.”

The longer-term vision, according to Tanvi, is to restore the ecosystem and create possibilities for eco-tourism throughout the area. The village is situated just 2.5 km away from Pobitora Wildlife Sanctuary which houses a host of majestic animals including the one-horned rhinoceros, Asiatic wild buffalo, elephants, swamp deer and migratory birds from different parts of the world between November and March every year.

Tanvi says: “I am very proud that we have been able to work with the local people and that we have reached consensus on the importance of the wetland and the function a wetland has in support the ecosystem. Hatimuria will serve as an example to encourage other villages to get involved with the council’s supportive measures and to become self-sufficient.”

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Karol Salazar Navarro, Knowing the beauty and value of blue carbon

Wetlands adjacent to cities are often used as wasteland despite being important carbon stores. The Pantanos de Villa Wildlife Refuge in Peru is such a place.

Los Pantanos de Villa, a coastal marine wetland, was designated as a wildlife refuge, a natural protected area and Ramsar Site in 1997, but being so near to a fast growing urban population, this ‘special interest’ site has become a dump.

Trucks have even been known to dump construction waste there, compacting the soil, reducing flora growth and draining the flooded areas. Soil saturated with water allows the accumulation of carbon because it prevents oxidisation of the soil. In other words, when dry, the soil literally evaporates into thin air. It then loses its ability to store carbon and becomes a source of emissions.

Pantanos de Villa Wildlife Refuge in Peru

“During the day I could observe the birds and on the way home I saw the moon reflecting in the lagoon.”

Karol Salazar Navarro, 25 years old from Lima, Peru, is a young scientist researching this topic, more specifically, how much carbon is taken up from the atmosphere and stored by a native grass species of the wetland. She’s concerned that people start to see both the beauty and value of this wetland’s blue carbon.

“It is frustrating to see that the wetland has been reduced in area over the years,” says Karol. On one side the city is encroaching, a university is on the other border, it is crossed by a road and there are also private areas in its surroundings such as country clubs and recreation fields.

Her own love of the wetland started as she began at university. “Every day I passed by the wetland ‘Pantanos de Villa’ travelling to university. I discovered the landscape from this route. During the day I could observe the birds and on the way home I saw the moon reflecting in the lagoon,” she says.

On of the way to get around the wetland is by boat.

Her own love of the wetland started as she began at university. “Every day I passed by the wetland ‘Pantanos de Villa’ travelling to university. I discovered the landscape from this route. During the day I could observe the birds and on the way home I saw the moon reflecting in the lagoon,” she says.

The wetlands, composed of marshes and swamps, with both fresh and saltwater lagoons across ​​263,270 hectares, is home to more than 200 species of migratory and resident birds including the Peruvian Diving-Petrel, Guanay cormorant and Peruvian Booby. It’s also a refuge for species like Peregrine Falcon and the Black-bellied Plover.

The discovery of this wetland’s charm, even from the periphery, led her to develop her thesis about the area.

“I grew up with a close connection to nature and water since I lived very close to the beach. From a very young age, I was convinced that I wanted to study something related to the environment and science. I am fascinated by the marine-coastal systems’ capacity to capture carbon.”

Striated heron, also known as mangrove heron is one the species that can be found in this wetland.

But as a young adult, science was distant to her: she imagined it was a career for others. “My image of scientists was of people in white coats who did not seem very accessible, she says.”

At the time in Peru, there were not many opportunities in public universities to study the environment. Fortunately, the National Technological University of South Lima, a new University in Peru, was offering a program for the first time in environmental engineering. With preparation and dedication, Karol entered the program, became part of one of the first cohorts and finished successfully in 2019.

“Part of safeguarding the wetlands is raising awareness of ‘blue carbon’. People need to know the important role wetlands play in carbon storage.”

Luckily, SERNANP and PROHVILLA, two institutions with whom Karol collaborated through her project, are working on preventing the wetland from begin used as a dumping ground. “Part of safeguarding the wetlands is raising awareness of ‘blue carbon’. People need to know the important role wetlands play in carbon storage. This is why I also work on identifying the existence and feasibility of methods for determining carbon sequestration, the capturing and storing of atmospheric carbon dioxide, in wetlands.”

One of Karol’s major successes has been finding a factor for estimating how much carbon is taken up from the atmosphere and stored in the species she studied. She compared three different methods to see if they gave the same results regarding the percentage of carbon sequestration. Using different methods she surprisingly found different results for each method, with results varying between 57.94  tons of carbon per hectare to up to 181.8  tons of carbon per hectare.

“I initially identified it as an error but managed to recognise it as a motivation to continue researching it. I hope my story will motivate more young people to study science. By doing this we can help restore and safeguard wetlands and their carbon stores.”

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Vandandorj Sumiya, Caring for carbon and cranes

Every spring when the snow starts to melt on the Mongolian steppe, thousands of migratory birds land on the wetlands of the Khurkh and Khuiten river valleys in north-eastern Mongolia. Dubbed “crane capital”, the area is home to the threatened White-naped crane, the Demoiselle and the Common crane while the Siberian and Hooded cranes are also observed.

“We want to maintain its crucial property of storing carbon in its peat and methane in its permafrost.”

Wetland ecologist Vandandorj Sumiya, who works at the Wildlife Science and Conservation Center of Mongolia (WSCC ) and Research Fellow at the Leiden Conservation Foundation (LCF), has been managing a research project here to understand the climatic and anthropogenic impacts on the valley, and how to safeguard it for both the cranes, and the people who depend on it. He says: “we want to maintain its crucial property of storing carbon in its peat and methane in its permafrost.” Spring is when he prepares his field study with colleagues.

Vandandorj grew up in a herding family in the central Mongolian countryside, where he spent his childhood outdoors all day. “I used to try to pet chicks, fish, toads and bring them home. I would care for them, but my parents always asked me to let them go. This is when my interest in nature started and led me to studying and conserving wildlife in their natural habitat,” he says.

Khurkh and Zuunbayan Rivers.

Mongolia has a big responsibility for the conservation of the crane species, having the highest density of breeding pairs in the valleys, but there will be no success without paying attention to its habitat, the wetland.

The valleys Vandandorj works in are relatively small in size, but are internationally known for their cranes and as a carbon store, and because of this, have been designated a Ramsar site, an East Asia-Australasian Flyway Network site and Important Bird Area. More recently, the valleys were named a state nature reserve by Mongolian Government thanks to the efforts of international and national institutions, including WSCC.

Vandandorj explains that components of the wetland are fundamentally interconnected and interdependent. The peat layer of partially decayed plant material on top of the permafrost acts as insultation and prevents the permafrost from thawing. In turn, the permafrost holds the water table higher in the wetland, allowing the peat to stay in good condition. But, due to overgrazing and global warming Mongolia has already lost half its peatland habitats and the valley could face similar consequences.

White-naped Crane (Photo by WSCC/Iderbat Damba).

Overgrazing, mostly by domestic livestock, exposes the soil leading to higher surface temperature and an increased evaporation rate. This disturbs the interconnectedness between the peat layer and the permafrost, with the possibility of degradation of the wetlands, setting off a negative feedback loop. Vandandorj and his team is working to prevent this from happening and that the area would become unsuitable for nesting cranes.

He frequently travels to the valleys during the year for his studies and conservation activities, even in cold snowy winters. “Our field study is not as easy as people might think. Since it is a wetland sometimes you may have to walk about 30 km a day. When you go by car you can get stuck in the mud easily. But we enjoy our field studies a lot because we truly love this place and I believe that we are doing something meaningful for our nature, for the cranes and people as well,” he says.

Apart from his academic studies, Vandandorj also organises annual training on wetland studies for young Mongolian researchers and runs an interactive summer school for local students, to help them to grow up as a nature-loving and responsible citizen. Students learn about the special birds that live in their region, how important the wetland is for the birds and local communities, and how they can help with conservation of biodiversity and the wetland.

Field practice of the capacity building training for Mongolian young scientists.

WSCC also works with herding community and provides training to diversify their source of income, so that grazing pressure in wetlands could be reduced. “Herders are starting to realise that it is hard to have a large number of livestock in the changing world and are more open to alternative livelihoods. Working with communities in wetland monitoring and wildlife conservation is important for the future of the wetland, its migratory birds and the people that depend on it,” says Vandandorj.

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Tanvi Hussain, Livelihoods in balance with wetlands

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Jayson Salenga, Reinventing wetlands as an eco-destination

When it comes to conservation, providing alternative livelihoods and getting communities involved is often the key to stopping habitat and ecosystem damage. It’s something that Jayson Salenga, a 36-year old ecotourism officer, has embraced as part of his remarkable work in Sasmuan, an area in the Manila Bay, the Philippines.

“Over the years, I observed a significant decline in fish production due to mangrove degradation, land conversion, and pollution making the area vulnerable to the effect of climate change resulting in massive flooding.”

The Sasmuan Bangkung Mapalad Critical Habitat & Ecotourism Area, lies along the banks of the Pampanga River, winding along to fringes of Manila Bay. The areas extensive mangroves and mudflats are the breeding and feeding grounds of more than 20,000 migratory birds. With an abundance of fish, crabs and shrimp, it’s little surprise that such fishing activity supports 85% of the local economy.

But, despite this natural bounty, the wetland is under pressure – from the over-exploitation of natural resources by a growing population, who are increasingly turning to cutting mangroves and using illegal fishing methods to earn a living. Deforestation, however, reduces the productivity of the natural resources base and affects food security. Pollution is also an issue since the wetlands are a dumping ground for domestic waste, which is often burned.

Bangkung Malapad the gemstone hidden in the heart of Pasac River.

“Over the years, I observed a significant decline in fish production due to mangrove degradation, land conversion, and pollution making the area vulnerable to the effect of climate change resulting in massive flooding,” Jayson says. “We often upgrade our houses, but no one notices why we still experience flooding because they see it as normal in the coastal area,” he adds.

With this in mind, Jayson became a community volunteer to help raise awareness of the importance of a healthy wetland. He has since been supporting research, bird census, and mangrove restoration projects working to protect the area.

A large bird flock in the Sasmuan area.

In January 2013, he became the tourism officer of Sasmuan. With its majestic views and astonishing wildlife, he soon saw the potential of the area as an eco-tourism destination. This led to a bold proposition. Jayson says: “Bangkung Malapad is a gemstone hidden in the heart of Pasac River draining into the Manila Bay. On the mudflat there are lots of waders resting and eating small fish and shellfish. The importance of the habitat to the birds became clear to me, so, I endorsed it to our local government official who passed a resolution and submitted a proposal declaring the area a critical habitat for migratory birds to the Department of Environment and Natural Resources.”

These days, Jayson is busy working with local communities, NGOs, fisherfolk, boat operators and women’s groups to help provide alternative livelihoods to those that are damaging to the wetlands. People can get training to become tourist guides, boat operators for eco-tours or as a local coast guard. Also, people manufacture souvenirs and native products of Sasmuan.

Sunset at the Sasmuan wetland during low tide.

“We work with the local communities to provide sustainable livelihoods. Several women’s groups manufacture mangrove apple candy. Local people now work to protect the wetland against destructive activities,” Jayson shares. Community volunteers support with monitoring of biodiversity and the survival and growth of mangroves, as well as regular clean-ups of the mudflats.

After the storm Glenda.

In 2014, tropical storm Glenda struck the whole coastal area of Sasmuan with major damages to infrastructures, houses and livelihoods. This compelled Jayson to get involved in mangrove restoration to bring back this natural buffer against coastal hazards. With help from national government agencies, research bodies and companies to fund and implement restoration activities, 13 hectares of Bangkung Malapad are now once again covered with mangroves.

Jason’s remarkable work has helped inform and educate others on the importance of mangroves in the Philippines and protect people in local communities that rely on the wetlands. “There is so much beauty in conserving wetlands. My goal is that the Sasmuan Pampanga Coastal Wetland will be protected, conserved and we will maintain the coastal resources while conserving biodiversity, supporting sustainable commercial and community-based development, organising and empowering the communities. There is so much to be done in Sasmuan Bangkung Malapad and in the whole coastal area of Sasmuan,” he says.

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Alexander Watson, Putting wetlands on the map

As natural buffers against storms and floods, nursing grounds for fisheries, sources of wood for fuel and timber, and hotspots of biodiversity, mangroves are a vital lifeline for people and nature. But, mangroves are being lost rapidly as cities, agriculture and aquaculture expand. And, being in remote locations, means that it’s even more difficult to pinpoint the causes.

“It’s hard to believe that wetlands are often still viewed by humans as useless land.”

One young wetland ambassador working to change this is Alexander Watson, based in Krefeld, Germany. With his heart and soul in landscape recovery, this ‘nature-inspired’ entrepreneur specialises in supporting civil society organisations and communities with the remote sensing, data analysis, visualisation and map-based communication tools needed to safeguard or restore their forest landscapes, including mangroves.

“Mangroves make landscapes and ecosystems more resilient. As border ecosystems between land and water, they have a structural diversity and provide a habitat for many rare plant and animal species. It’s hard to believe that wetlands are often still viewed by humans as useless land,” says Alexander.

Mangrove protecting the cost land, El Salvador

Alexander graduated as a forestry scientist but without any formal wetland training. It was during a hike in Panama in 2008 that began in the rainforests when he came to realise just how vital water is by connecting our ecosystems and he had an idea for how to help people value these ecosystems.

Alexander during a hike in the Panamanian cloud forests.

“The air had over 90% humidity. Everything was slightly wet. The surfaces and mosses on the trees were soaked with water. The forest floor was muddy and repeatedly crossed by small streams. Mud had formed on flat surfaces into which you sank deep beyond your ankles,” he says.“The hike followed the water, along small streams down to the sea on the Caribbean side. There was no white beach there, but mangroves. This hike, in which I followed the water, from the fog of the mountains to the sea, showed me how water connects ecosystems,” he adds.

He realised that by monitoring these landscapes closely via satellite imagery and by making their visual diversity accessible via high-resolution aerial images, he could help people value these ecosystems. It’s only what we see, understand, and connect with that we are going to protect, he says.

Following this vision, Alexander and two friends started OpenForests in 2011, and today the team has grown to 12 people supporting more than 150 projects around the world.

The hiking journey downhill to the mangroves

However, it took some time for Alexander and his co-founders to find their way. It started with making aerial photographs by mounting a normal camera to a helium balloon. Unsurprisingly, operating a balloon on a rope in a windy forest presented some challenges.

Mounting a camera with a balloon.

Experimenting with the first available drones, which came out shortly after, helped the team improve and they mapped up to 100 hectares a day, producing high-quality images. This led to their first consultancy contract. Armed with a brand new drone necessary for the job, and bought with €10.000 scraped together from friends, the team set out to Suriname.

But, day one, flight one, in front of all clients, the prized drone crashed into a tree and was badly damaged. It took the team three weeks to carry out repairs, only to run into repeated problems with take-off in a dense forest. To avoid yet another crash, they decided to haul the drone above the canopy, using a helicopter drone and a rope, thus securing a safe take-off – for the drone and the business.

Mounting the fixed-wing glider drone with a copter drone 2015 Suriname.

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María Elisa Sánchez, Thinking like a mountain

Wetlands high up in mountains are often remote and harsh places, blasted by wind and rain, with all seasons possible in a day. But while their social sparsity might suggest a lack of importance, they are in fact, fundamental to thousands of cities around the world; as a vital source of freshwater, fed by melting snow and glaciers.

“They are natural ‘water towers’ because of their ability to collect water and release it slowly through time.”

Thirty-three year old Ecuadorian, Maria Sánchez, is someone who recognises just how crucial to life these wetlands are. Born in the second highest capital city in the world, Quito, Maria has been studying how mountain peatlands are affected by a shift in winter precipitation due to climate change for the past two years. “They are natural ‘water towers’ because of their ability to collect water and release it slowly through time but they are disproportionately affected by climate change,” she says.

One of Maria’s favourite sites is the Helen Lake peatland in Banff National Park in Canada. “It is super hard to hike in all the equipment there, because we are not allowed to leave it in. But the views are amazing and it is so peaceful and quiet. I feel very grateful I get to work there.”

One of Maria’s favourite sites in the Helen Lake peatland in Banff National Park in Canada.

To survive in these conditions, life has to be hardy. Mountain peatlands are also the home of very specific species that have adapted to live in what are often harsh conditions. These ecosystems may see all the seasons in one day, and these adapted species thrive there, says Maria.

Among these, the Alpine Bearberry’s shortness allows it to stay alive through high winds, avalanches. It protects itself from cold by staying under the snow. Sphagnum moss, meanwhile, acts like sponge to hold huge amounts of water and allows peat to accumulate.

What fascinates María most, however, is the way that organic matter has managed to still gather over landscapes that have changed so much — through landslides, volcanic eruptions, and glacier retreat. “It is also awe-inspiring how these peatlands have accumulated carbon for over ten thousand years in such small places. Peatlands in the mountains are not vast and flat, they are small but very prevalent,” she says.

The Alpine Bearberry (Arctostaphylos alpine) is a shrub adapted to high elevation. Its shortness allows it to stay alive through the extreme climactic conditions of the region.

Unfortunately, high-altitude wetlands are rapidly being degraded due to the drainage of mountain peatlands, conversion of lakes and channelisation of rivers. The loss of upstream wetlands threatens the health and safety of billions of people downstream by reducing the capacity of the landscape to store water. This prevents the replenishment of groundwater and increases the risk of water scarcity and flash floods.

“Studying mountain peatlands is an essential step for conservation as these ecosystems are an essential piece of the hydrological cycle. María says: “It is incredibly important that we turn to look at them now: to inventory them, characterise them, and include them in our studies, because we may end up losing entire ecosystems, without knowing they existed or how they worked.”

Maria’s path, from her environmental engineering degree to her passion for mountain wetlands, was not always easy. “I somehow felt I was missing something. I later understood that a great component of my satisfaction with work was to be outdoors in the field understanding ecosystems by observing them,” she says.

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Youssoupha Sané, Awakening to the bond between people and nature

Wetland wildernesses are all too often lost to the march of development — industrial infrastructure, the encroachment of the city, clearing for agriculture — under the promise of jobs, prosperity and a better life. But, in many cases, what is gained can never replace what was lost, and the benefits are overshadowed by the consequences.

Threats such as saltwater intrusion into crop fields give Youssoupha an even greater incentive to protect the mangroves of the Saloum.

One young wetland ambassador looking for a different way is Youssoupha Sane, a teacher at Mbam village primary school, Senegal — a sleepy village in the Fatick district, upstream from the Saloum Delta.

Just 180 kilometers south-east of Dakar, the Delta is a biodiversity hotspot and UNESCO world heritage site covering some 180,000 hectares of wetlands, lakes, lagoons and marshes, sandy coasts and dunes, terrestrial savannah areas and dry, open forest. It’s home to 400 species, is a source of millions of livelihoods and plays a vital role in flood control and regulating the distribution of rainwater for local people and wildlife.

However, these wetlands have been under pressure on a number of different fronts over the last decade. The discovery of oil in the Sangomar Deep block, off the Senegalese coast close to the National Park of the Saloum Delta, has been a cause for concern. Many, including Youssoupha, are worried about the risks to the Delta.

Many, including Youssoupha, are worried about the risks to the delta.

At the same time, due to drought, climate change and the uncontrolled logging of mangrove forests, the ground’s salinity has shot up – threatening the livelihoods of thousands of people living there, with saltwater intrusion into rice fields and pastoral areas. It’s even more reason to protect the mangroves since they help stop the advancement of salinisation in the crop fields, Youssoupha says.

A local oil spill in 2014, with severe consequences for the community, livelihoods and wildlife, convinced Youssoupha that the wetlands must be safeguarded. Seeing the connections between threats and disastrous outcomes for people and nature, he made it his mission to raise awareness across generations and help foster sustainable development in his community.

Youssoupha has since been teaching at Mbam school alongside 12 other teachers, giving the 420 students a broad education, as well as delving into environmental issues such as waste management and biodiversity. The school forest, introduced a number of years ago, offers habitat for birds, insects and other animals, which students can study first-hand.

Students at the Mbam school have a ‘school forest’ where they can study birds, insects and other animals first-hand.

But, for two years now, school is regularly interrupted, due to the salinisation of the water systems. The lack of freshwater supply has led to the death of many banana plants and forced the shutdown of the school garden. A more systemic approach is needed, and that involves helping local communities make the connection between human actions, disasters and the ways that maintaining the ecosystem can help prevent these disasters.

With this in mind, the Mbam 2 Environment Club, coordinated by Youssoupha and which brings together 30 students every year to explore the mangroves, spot wildlife and count waterbirds. By putting their knowledge into action the children learn the complex co-dependencies between the ecosystem and their communities.

“It’s vital to prepare the children for a climate that might threaten their way of life.”

It’s vital to prepare the children for a climate that might threaten their way of life and equip them with the knowledge and actions to protect their environment, says Youssoupha. Ideally, everyone would have access to their own green energy and know how to mitigate the effects of natural and anthropogenic environmental change.

Youssoupha hopes their enthusiasm will help raise awareness among their parents on the importance of the environment, contributing to an increasing focus on sustainability in their region. “They’re awakening the environmentalist fibre,” he says.

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Hugo Ferreira, Taking flight with the flamingos

When we think of spectacular nature, our minds perhaps turn to the dusty savannahs of Africa or the vast wilderness of the Pantanal, where jaguars roam and caiman lurk. We seldom think of Europe, with its formidable autobahns and bustling cities.

But, for Hugo Ferreira, a 27-year old from Portugal, Europe has some hidden gems, wetland gems to be precise, and more people need to know about them. For the past two years, Hugo has been volunteering at France’s largest wetland, the Camargue.

Nestled between France’s cosmopolitan cities of Montpelier and Marseille, the Camargue stretches nearly 150,000 hectares between two gulfs, forming a triangular delta with the Mediterranean Sea at its base. These wetlands are home to 75 species of fish, 15 amphibians, six reptiles, 32 mammals, and 412 birds, with 111 regularly nesting species. And, more than 1,500 of France’s 4,700 flowering plant species are to be found here. The Camargue also supports species like the Greater Flamingo, the Glossy Ibis, Eurasian bittern and more.

27-year-old Hugo from Portugal has been volunteering at France’s largest wetland, the Camargue, for the past 2 years.

Hugo has been volunteering in fieldwork, monitoring and studying the ecology of the wetlands, as well as doing workshops and talks for kids, students and other audiences. He says: “I fulfilled my kid´s dream of doing what I saw every Sunday morning in nature programmes on the TV. I’ve been in a natural reserve studying wild animals like spoonbills, flamingos, ibis, gulls, boars, coypus, marmots, parasites mosquitoes, coleoptera, eels, fish.. I was so happy and motivated that I would just help in every project I could!”

“I fulfilled my kid´s dream of doing what I saw every Sunday morning in nature programmes on the TV.”

But it wasn’t always so. Although Hugo had studied ecology (algae macroinvertebrates communities), after university he found it difficult to find related work in Portugal. He took a job at a hotel in the Algarve, where he gave presentations on local biodiversity. However, he wanted more and felt unfulfilled. “Despite meeting amazing people there, I was quite depressed, feeling that all my hard work in my studies were in vain. It was definitively not the life I imagined for myself and not fulfilling my urge for adventure and discovery.”

Following his passion, he found an opportunity in the framework of the European Solidarity Corps programme, plucked up the courage to move to a different country, learn a new language and started with Wetlands International partner, Tour du Valat, a research institute for the conservation of Mediterranean wetlands.

Work on reviving these wetlands has involved bringing a variety of stakeholders together – birds-watchers, students, bull breeders, horse-owners and fishers to share the space. There are regular talks, activities and workshops for the local community.

Now, in the early stages of a PhD, Hugo continues to introduce people to the wildlife of the wetlands and how to safeguard these gems.

“The Camargue is special to me because there I not only found a new place to call home but also the chance to live the dream I had as kid.”

Through a youth event Hugo met people in the European Commission who invited him to create a network to connect young people around Europe and to inspire them to take action. Part of this is to share his volunteering story and inspire others as to how they can get involved. Along the way at these events, he has picked up the name, “flamingo boy”.

He explains: “During my volunteering, I recorded a video about my experience and took part in a photo competition. I was selected as one of the volunteers of the year and for the best magical moment volunteering for nature. Since the highlight was the flamingos, I started to be internationally known at youth events as the ‘flamingo boy’. The best skill I learned during my project was how to dance and sing like a flamingo. Maybe next time I can show it to you!”

Now, in the early stages of a PhD, studying migration of spoonbills from Camargue, Hugo continues to introduce people to the wildlife of the wetlands, and gives talks on the importance of wetlands and how youth in Europe can get involved to safeguard these gems.

Hugo picked up the name “flamingo boy” after sharing his volunteer stories at international youth events, where he tended to show videos of flamingos.

More #PowerofWetlands stories...

Tanvi Hussain, Livelihoods in balance with wetlands

Healthy wetlands provide food and fodder for the species and people living around them. But over-exploiting these resources can lead to degradation, which in tu

Karol Salazar Navarro, Knowing the beauty and value of blue carbon

Wetlands adjacent to cities are often used as wasteland despite being important carbon stores. The Pantanos de Villa Wildlife Refuge in Peru is such a place. Lo

Vandandorj Sumiya, Caring for carbon and cranes

Every spring when the snow starts to melt on the Mongolian steppe, thousands of migratory birds land on the wetlands of the Khurkh and Khuiten river valle

Jayson Salenga, Reinventing wetlands as an eco-destination

When it comes to conservation, providing alternative livelihoods and getting communities involved is often the key to stopping habitat and ecosystem damage. It

Alexander Watson, Putting wetlands on the map

As natural buffers against storms and floods, nursing grounds for fisheries, sources of wood for fuel and timber, and hotspots of biodiversity, mangroves are a

María Elisa Sánchez, Thinking like a mountain

Wetlands high up in mountains are often remote and harsh places, blasted by wind and rain, with all seasons possible in a day. But while their social sparsity m

Youssoupha Sané, Awakening to the bond between people and nature

Wetland wildernesses are all too often lost to the march of development — industrial infrastructure, the encroachment of the city, clearing for agricultur

Hugo Ferreira, Taking flight with the flamingos

When we think of spectacular nature, our minds perhaps turn to the dusty savannahs of Africa or the vast wilderness of the Pantanal, where jaguars roam and caim

Tell us your story →