Change has always defined me. As a youth growing up in Colombia, Australia, Mexico and Florida, change was dictated to me by my parents’ tendency to relocate. I found later in life that I could let change happen to me or create change on my own terms. I haven’t looked back since.
Being in the environmental field for 12 years, I have never felt comfortable in the confines of an office. I feel that ideas emerge when one is close with nature or in contact with the people that are affected by environmental degradation every day. Only then can the best ideas emerge.
A monumental change recently happened to me. A biologist by training, I came across the eco-art approach of the Reclamation Project (www.reclamationproject.net). Through participatory eco-art activities, the Project simplifies complex concepts such as climate change or coastal degradation using the universal language of art. Through the Reclamation Project, South Florida residents come into contact with the Project’s eco-art installations and undergo a transformation in the way they feel about nature, often empowering them to get involved as volunteers in restoring coastal habitats. I consider myself a convert to the power of art in impacting people to restore the balance between humans and nature. Changing my career from sea turtle biologist to director of an emergent eco-art program had its risks but they are paying off every day.
In fact, you could say being a changemaker is in my blood. Last year, my mother, Conchy Bretos, was nominated as an Ashoka fellow.
My fondest place is inside the mangrove forest. Especially a mangrove forest near a city like Miami. The pungent smell of decomposition, the myriad of sounds, the muddy bottom, tell me I am in a place that is reborn every day. Off in the distance I see a massive cityscape. I cannot hear the city, I can only see it. Here I am convinced that urban development and natural habitats can indeed coexist.
I want people all over the world to reacquaint themselves with nature. In America we do not embrace our connection with the natural world. Only when we realize that we are part of an enormous ecosystem called Earth can we realize our positive and negative impacts on eachother. Luckily I have realized this at a young age. My hope is to convince people that they are part of a natural cycle. My line of work is habitat restoration. By getting people involved in coastal restoration, i.e. planting mangrove seedlings or eradicating invasive plants, or just to spend a day outdoors they realize the power they have to restore the balance.
Mr. Bretos, a marine biologist and environmental educator, is Director of The Reclamation Project (www.reclamationproject.net). A community based participatory eco-art project, the Project empowers South Florida residents to restore urban coastal ecosystems one seedling at a time. He coordinates eco-art installations containing Red mangrove (Rhizophora mangle) propagules exhibited in clear plastic cups and associated eco-art outreach at museums, including a 1,100 seedling exhibit at Miami Science Museum, schools and retail areas throughout Miami. In his role he also organizes volunteer-based habitat coastal restoration efforts in Biscayne Bay and urban reforestation efforts.
Mr. Bretos is also a Research Associate at The Ocean Foundation. At The Ocean Foundation he oversees a tri-national effort (www.trinationalinitiative.org) to restore coastal and marine resources shared by the three nations of the Gulf of Mexico: Cuba, Mexico and the United States.
Before relocating to Miami in 2003, Mr. Bretos worked for five years at The Ocean Conservancy, a nonprofit marine conservation advocacy organization in Washington, D.C. where he managed the organization’s conservation programs in the Wider Caribbean Basin. He has organized several marine expeditions in Caribbean waters as well as joint workshops with Latin American organizations in sea turtle conservation, coral reef health and marine biodiversity.
Mr. Bretos holds a Master’s degree in Marine Affairs and Policy from the University of Miami’s Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science and a bachelor’s degree in biology from Oberlin College. In August 2010, he became a National Audubon Society Together Green (www.togethergreen.org) fellow, one of 40 conservation professionals selected nationwide. With funding from Toyota, the program helps tomorrow’s conservationists create an impact in their communities.