11 September 2020, San Juan, La Union. Marine Biologist Laura Riavitz is the latest nominee approved as a FEED Ambassador, thanks to her pioneering efforts working with FEED since 2018 on various environmental awareness and Climate Change Action programs, particularly coral conservation and propagation efforts in La Union province.
Laura successfully trained 11 certified La Union Surf Club, Inc. (LUSC) surf instructors from Jongky Surf School – the first ever surf school in La Union and the world trained in Coral Propagation & Planting and certified by Ocean Quest Global and Sea Shepherd Dive. Considered a pilot and pioneering project, being the first of its kind, it proved so inspiring, encouraging and fulfilling to the LUSC surfers, the once word spread, requests started flooding in from other public and private schools, teachers, parents and companies since onset.
After several months, FEED was able to secure further funding to expand the Coral Propagation training to a majority of certified surf instructors of LUSC, also a FEED Living Legacy partner in coastal and community development, coral, marine and ocean protection, conservation and and protection. The private sector grant also enable the purchase of snorkeling equipment (professional goggles, snorkles and fins/flippers co-sponsored by Aquamundo based in the Philippines.
The first step of this training was to create awareness and teach the surf instructors and surfing community leaders about the importance of taking care of our marine environment, the benefits for the local community, towards livelihood development, health and well-being, including eco-tourism. Four Training of Trainers workshops were conducted in June 2019 reaching 45 leading surf instructors from 20 LUSC surf schools in La Union.
Surfers were taught how to collect loose fragments of corals (left behind after storm surges/tidal flows) underwater, how to wear protective gear to protect the coral and also ourselves from being stung and how to propagate them on these loose substrates, how to securely affix them with the Ocean Quest Global proprietary organic glue material and, finally, how to return them to the LUSC nursery under water under monitoring by Laura, FEED and LUSC trained coral propagation surfers.
LUSC Groups 1-4 Certified in Coral Propagation & Planting
Laura’s training of LUSC surfers also provided them with a new skillset that can in turn be taught to visitors of San Juan, La Union, which typically can reach anywhere from 6,000 up to 10,000 foot local and international tourists a day during the opening of surf season in October every year at what is now considered the “Surfing Capital of Northern Luzon”. The training presents opportunities for alternative (off-surf season) livelihood through eco-tourism, snorkeling and coral tours. The 11 + 45 LUSC surf instructors who received certificates of participation from FEED and Ocean Quest Global are further eligible to coach and facilitate one of FEED’s latest Climate Change Action Programs called ECOSURF, which is in its 3rd year running this 2020.
ECOSURF is a FEED developed program comprising multi-disciplinary partnerships with local provincial government leaders, LUSC surf instructors, voluntary organisations coastal cleanups, tree planting and coral gardening. So far Laura was involved with four ECOSURF programs in La Union, training more than 200 trained students from Ateneo as well as another 80 through various FEED-organized Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) ECOSURF programs for different companies.
Laura herself monitors the planted corals and posts the progress results on her social media channels Facebook for friends and Instagram for followers and friends. Laura is also currently Vice President for Environment for San Juan Resort Restaurant and Hotel Association (SJRRHASS) and Environmental Coordinator and Consultant of La Union Soul.
She has worked for the Provincial Government of La Union and City of San Fernando Philippines as Marine Consultant for more than 4 years. She led marine education development and technical support to enable community and stakeholder groups to adopt technologies and knowledge to improve environmental conditions. Some of the programs she spearheaded include:
- Cure the Sea – Project Founder and Lead Facilitator: A marine educational program that was integrated in public schools for Grade V. Conducted trainings in reef ecology including under-water field-trips to more than 5000 public school children and more than 400 science teachers in San Fernando City and other municipalities in the province of La Union.
- Dalumpinas Oeste Pawikan Conservation Centre – Executive Director: responsible for the establishment of a sea turtle hatchery in Dalumpinas Oeste and implementation of a community based monitoring body in the conservation and protection of the sea turtle.
- Marine Educational Center – Marine Consultant: Advisory in the development and adapted programs that include marine ecology and marine environmental conservation for local universities, schools, fisheries and coastal communities.
Laura has also worked for the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH as a Marine Consultant. She is a trainer for progressive science education for the Southeast Asian Institute of Educational Training, and also a Marine biologist for Ocean Quest Global.
Students and participants are fascinated with her enthusiasm, they genuinely appreciate her interest and love for the ocean, her unique way of teaching of making students and volunteers comfortable in the water. There is something about her training that opens the eyes of the participants in a way that cannot be achieved through textbooks, pictures or video alone.
Awarded Lenovo Innovator in 2020
As recently as September 10th, 2020, Laura was selected as a Lenovo Innovator: “Saving Our Oceans: How One Marine Biologist’s Passion Took Her Halfway Around the World.” The Lenovo Innovators Program identified and partnered with unique people from many different backgrounds who share their vision of Smarter Technology for All (STFA).
The partnership highlights real-world stories and examples of STFA and aims to inspire people to innovate and reach their full potential. According to Lenovo, “being an Innovator goes beyond designing and using new devices. Real innovation happens when people see a problem and are passionately committed to solving it. All of our Innovators embody that spirit – to make the world a more interesting place, solve big problems, and use smart technology. Throughout the year, the Lenovo Innovators will be telling their stories through a series of videos and articles on StoryHub and will be posting their adventures on Instagram using #LenovoInnovators.”
About Laura, By Laura
Read more from Laura herself:
“Literally since I was young I wanted to become a marine biologist. When I was a child we used to spend our summer holidays in Italy where my father taught me how to snorkel. Since then my beach days were mainly spent in the ocean with a mask and snorkel observing all kinds of marine life. I studied marine biology in Austria, which is by the way landlocked, and did my master thesis on tiny deep sea organisms. My work brought me all the way to the Maldives where I spent two years on coral reef research and got insights into marine tourism. After that I went straight to the Philippines and started working as a marine consultant for the local government on various projects, like educating the youth on marine conservation or setting up a sea turtle hatchery.
In 2016 I joined Ocean Quest Global and started to travel through SE Asia to work on coral reef rehabilitation. We would propagate corals and set up coral nurseries in the most remote and beautiful places. Ocean Quest Global is an international organisation, based in Malaysia and is becoming the leading organisation in coral reef restoration.
I am still living in the Philippines where I am working closely together with the local community. So far we have conducted some amazing projects together, including coral and mangrove planting with the local surf schools, conducting training on ocean conservation or projects on single-use plastic reduction at local markets. We never stop coming up with new ideas on how to live more eco-friendlier in our community and lessen the harm to our surrounding environment.
When FEED approached me and asked me to become their ambassador I felt very honored. I have worked with FEED on several projects already and they are one of my greatest supporters. I think I would not even be here in the Philippines anymore if it wasn’t for them. Not only do they provide endless efforts in saving the environment but also support the local communities. Something I will always cherish and look up to.
I think we all can do our own part to a more sustainable living. We just need to change some of our habits. Whether reducing waste at home, composting, eating less meat, joining/supporting environmental organizations, educating yourself on sustainable living, using less electricity, the possibilities are endless and everyone can do their part. No one expects you to adopt all those changes at once. Just pick one, try to be consistent and see how you feel about it. If you like it then continue your advocacy and share your efforts, if not try something else but at least you have tried!”
With Laura’s marine conservation particularly coral propagation experience, and how she exerts great effort into everything she does, having also assessed the continuous and growing momentum of her efforts in coastal and marine conservation, it was a clear winner in all nominations submitted to the FEED Board last April 2020.
“Laura’s exceptional track record, her profound interest and action with regards the protection of marine life and her love for the environment, we feel that Laura as our latest FEED ambassador will continue to pursue her passions and sharing them with larger audiences, youth advocates and in many more places than the Philippines or South East Asia. It is our hope that she will always continue to share and develop her knowledge in critical areas, and to inspire others to do the same.” – FEED President & Founder Ofelia Bakker-Manankil
You might also see Laura surfing in her short board in Monaliza point during her free time, enjoying the surf and being one with the waves in La Union. She has always respected the local ways of La Union, and we are honored that she accepted the FEED Ambassadorship to continue her advocacies. The world needs more of such energy, now more than ever.
Find out more about FEED Ambassadors here:
Tree-Planting with FEED (Video)
Check out the video journey by Clueless Commuter who planted with us last 24th of June 2017 to get a good idea of how FEED plantings go: https://youtu.be/KROn4rjVqBg
(c) Fostering Education & Environment for Development, Inc.