Angelo Bernardino: Revealing the ecological riches of the Amazon’s mangrove forests

National Geographic Explorer and marine ecologist Angelo Bernardino is researching how land use and climate change impact the mangrove forests of northern Brazil’s Amazon region.

When National Geographic Explorer Dr. Angelo Bernardino is knee-deep in the wetlands of the Amazon’s mangrove forests, he doesn’t just see trees with large roots protruding from waterlogged soils—he sees a booming ecosystem of life and all its intricacies. 

“To go into the mangrove forests is always remarkable,” Bernardino says. “From the outside, it looks like just trees, but when you look inside you see all of this life.” 

Bernardino is passionate about telling the story of the mangroves: why they are a significant link to the many moving parts of the Amazon’s aquatic ecosystem and the ecological services they provide. Bernardino’s goal is to raise awareness of the mangroves’ importance to marine life sustainability and climate change mitigation. 

Mangroves thrive along the water, and are abundant along the coasts of Colombia, Venezuela, Brazil, Suriname, Guyana, and French Guiana. The trees have adapted to intertidal areas, where they are partially inundated by seawater throughout the day. The mangroves in this region also serve as significant carbon sinks and have critical importance to the sequestration of pollutants from the Amazon River Basin.

In addition to protecting some of the world’s most biodiverse ecosystems, mangroves also prove important to local fishing communities. 

The coastal forests act as a natural fishery: when the tide is low, fish get caught in the mangroves and are able to be caught with ease, providing market and non-market goods to local communities, and by extension, subsistence for millions of people. 

Bernardino collaborates with local communities that are experiencing reduced access to fresh water as a result of climate change. Due to an increase in the salinity of local freshwater, many Indigenous people of the coastlands have been forced to evacuate their communities. 

“Over 50 percent of this community has left,” Bernardino says. “They are climate refugees.” 

When he asks people about the mangroves, he says that although many see the forests as beautiful places, they aren’t often aware of the benefits they bring. 

“Sometimes people don’t associate the fish that they eat there…” Bernardino says. “The major Brazilian cities all have mangroves, it’s very interesting to see how people are connected to these mangroves but they don’t connect them to a beneficial ecosystem.”

Bernardino describes himself as a communicator who acts as a bridge connecting people of different backgrounds to discuss the problems facing nature. He has seen first-hand how the Amazon affects the entire planet. Bernardino believes in the importance of humanity working together to create impact.

Angelo Bernardino is participating in the National Geographic Society Perpetual Planet Amazon Expedition—a two-year series of scientific studies spanning the entire Amazon River Basin, supported by Rolex as part of its Perpetual Planet initiativeLearn more about the expedition.

This Explorer's work is funded by the National Geographic Society
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For the National Geographic Society: Brittany Maher is a freelance writer based in Atlanta, Ga., who specializes in literary journalism. She believes in the connective power of storytelling. 

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