With years of experience under her belt and with numerous publications, workshops and webinars focusing on mangroves, Jurgenne Primavera is a name that is hard to miss and her knowledge of mangrove conservation is profound. She holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in zoology and a doctorate in marine science and is currently working with the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) in the Philippines. In 2008, Time Magazine awarded her the title “Hero of the Environment” for her work in promoting sustainable fish farming. She received a Pew Fellowship in Marine Conservation from 2005 to 2010, focusing her efforts on mangrove conservation through formal education and local governance.
I decided to gain Dr. Primavera’s insights into mangrove conservation and related policies in order to familiarize the reader with the changes she has experienced over the years. In an interview, we also talked about the role that youth will play in the #GenerationRestoration over the next decade, and discussed her hopes for youth working on mangroves, like me! These valuable insights should be shared around the globe to inspire youth leaders to continue the legacy of protecting mangroves.
Camille: What inspired you to take on the role of conserving mangroves? How did it start and who inspired you?
Jurgenne Primavera: I first visited Leganes, Iloilo province, in the Philippines 45 years ago as a researcher for the Southeast Asian Fisheries Development Center (SEAFDEC) Aquaculture Department, stocking sugpo (prawns) and growing them in fishponds. At the time, I noted some strange-looking trees along the dikes, giving me an “Aha!” moment. I suddenly realized that these trees – mangroves, I later found out – were the remains of the forests that had been clear-cut to build the ponds.
Unknowingly, my mangrove advocacy had started. So let’s fast-forward to 2008 after I had retired from SEAFDEC. And what do you know, the ZSL – a UK-based NGO – invited me to head a mangrove project, their first ecosystem-based initiative, in contrast to previous campaigns based on charismatic animals like tigers, whales and turtles. This mangrove project brought me full circle to the weird trees I first saw in the 1970s, and provided me with a perfect platform for my mangrove advocacy.
Camille: With your experience of creating policies for the protection of mangroves, have there been any changes in mangrove conservation policies over the years, particularly in recent times? For example, with the changing climate, sea level rise and overpopulation, are the mangrove conservation policies the same today as they were before?
Jurgenne Primavera: Even before climate change, there were already national laws that protected mangroves, such as Rep. Act 7161 (Internal Revenue Act), which gives blanket protection to mangroves. The problem is weak law enforcement and a lack of political will. Another example is the National Coastal Greenbelt Bill, which was filed in 2014 and 2015 by the Senate and Lower House, respectively, after Typhoon Yolanda struck in 2013. Yet the Congress has felt no urgency to act even after lives were lost to storm surges due to lack of coastal protection. And seven years down the line, it still remains a bill!
Camille: What do you think are key factors in successful mangrove restoration?
Jurgenne Primavera: First, science-based protocols. Second, the political will to implement those protocols. Third, community-based initiatives. And fourth, international leverage applied to science-based protocols.
Camille: What role can youth play in mangrove conservation?
Jurgenne Primavera: They are already doing a lot with volunteer mangrove planting and awareness building.
Camille: How well are we doing in the Philippines when it comes to protecting our mangroves compared with other Southeast Asian countries?
Jurgenne Primavera: Most Southeast Asian countries have mangrove protection laws. I think the Philippines lags behind in law enforcement.
Camille: What is the future of mangroves in the Philippines? Do you feel there is hope for their protection?
Jurgenne Primavera: The future prospects are twofold. First, protection – particularly as mangrove ecoparks – is gaining popularity, especially with the Best Mangrove Awards that ZSL has been organizing for the second time this year. Second, rehabilitation efforts should be targeted at turning abandoned fishponds back into mangroves, instead of doing seafront planting, which is what the government and most NGOs are doing.
Camille: With the rise of digital media, do you think technology can help in the conservation, protection and awareness of mangroves?
Jurgenne Primavera: Yes. For example, satellite imagery can help in monitoring the survival of planted mangroves, and in locating abandoned fishponds that can be turned back into mangroves.
Camille: What is the single-most-important message you can offer to youth taking on the role of protecting mangroves?
Jurgenne Primavera: Know the basic biology of mangroves so you can be guided in your actions to protect or rehabilitate them.
Camille: What is the most rewarding thing you have done in your professional career as a global mangrove researcher and specialist?
Jurgenne Primavera: When it comes to work abroad, the most satisfying thing is going out into the field with international colleagues and spending the whole day doing mangrove research. With regard to work at home, more or less the same thing. Not just with Filipino marine science colleagues, but also students and non-technical people, including high school teachers, NGO workers and fisherfolk. It is rewarding to open their eyes to the daily happenings in mangroves, especially as the tide goes out or comes in.
Camille: What characteristics would you like to see in our youth today?
Jurgenne Primavera: More interest and involvement in social and environmental issues of the day.
My conclusion: Listening to Dr. Primavera’s insights and gaining from her experience not only opened my eyes to hidden gaps in the country’s approach to mangrove conservation, but also inspired me to do more on the path of ecosystem restoration and to help mobilize more young leaders. I agree that there must be more interest and involvement in social and environmental issues as the Philippines has about 30 million young people between 10 and 24 years old, comprising 28 percent of the population. I always like to tell youth that passion is great, but passion coupled with ecological awareness and empathy with communities’ needs are the right ingredients for a greater impact.