Marbelys Garriga Wins VoLo VISTA Award

Marbelys Garriga, is harnessing the importance and performance of mangrove forests as a response to climate change. This month, the Department of Biological Sciences and NSF CREST Center for Aquatic Chemistry & Environment (CAChE) graduate student was awarded the $10,000 VoLo Foundation VISTA award for the important work she is doing to address climate change impacts.

The VoLo Foundation VISTA award supports and recognizes students for their drive on positive change in climate solutions. Four finalists – two from Florida International University – were invited to present their ideas at the annual Climate Correction conference at the University of Central Florida in Orlando. While each finalist displayed influential solutions to climate change, Garriga gained the public’s votes and won first place.

Garriga’s project focuses on planting mangroves across coastlines in seawall areas to create living shorelines that improve water quality and provide protection against sea-level rise. By analyzing all the data from every plot where she plants mangroves, she can then compare the effectiveness of water quality enhancement against natural mangrove sites. Garriga is also incorporating digital elevation levels and pinpointing depth for sea-level rise projections.

She hopes to spur change by analyzing and taking measurements: “It is a science-based decision project, something that I’m observing and deriving. I’m taking measurement so I can say, ‘Yes, this will be a good solution.'”  

Water quality and mangroves have always been of interest to Garriga. She started studying mangrove adaptation and working with her research mentor, Dr. Tiffany Troxler, during her undergraduate years at FIU. Now, in the second year of her graduate degree she will continue her research project by planting mangroves, placing flume structures, taking measurements and analyzing water quality.

Mangrove forests are extremely important to the environment, community and wildlife. With the $10,000 award, Garriga is expanding their benefits by planting more across the coastlines throughout Miami-Dade County for a more resilient future.

Department of Earth and Environment graduate student and second FIU finalist, Nadia Seeteram proposed a project to organize the first set of focus groups to study how communities are reacting to displacement from climate gentrification and inundation from rising seas. Using evidence from local news stories, she found that people are concerned about these issues, but thus far, scientists have not started conversations with vulnerable communities. Sea level concerns will not fade without the help of courageous visionaries like Garriga and Seeteram. The VoLo VISTA award acknowledges those who display leadership when it comes to climate change research. VISTA stands for vision, innovation, sustainability, technology and adaptation as these elements relate to climate solutions within the State of Florida. FIU students like Garriga and Seeteram are paving the way toward a healthier future with the implementation of innovative solutions to climate challenges.