Unesco Green Citizens

Indigenous and Local Knowledge

Local and indigenous knowledge systems are a precious source of wisdom which people tap into for creating solutions inspired by their interactions with nature, their culture, languages, and spirituality.

It refers to the understandings, skills and philosophies developed by societies with long histories of interaction with their natural surroundings. These unique ways of knowing are important facets of the world’s cultural diversity and provide a foundation for locally-appropriate sustainable development.

Discover UNESCO’s Local and Indigenous Knowledge Systems programme (LINKS), which promotes local and indigenous knowledge and its inclusion in global environmental sciences and policy processes: https://en.unesco.org/links

Get inspired by UNESCO Green Citizens projects which valorize indigenous and local knowledge for sustainable development!

Education for Sustainable Development
Indigenous and Local Knowledge
Forests and desertification
Natural disasters risk reduction
Natural resource management
Participatory science/citizen science
Sustainable lifestyles
Democratic Republic of the Congo
United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland
United States of America

Coral Vita: Restoring Our World’s Dying Reefs

Friends Sam Teicher and Gator Halpern have co-founded Coral Vita, a high-tech coral farming solution to protect the dying reefs in The Bahamas and around the world. Through high-impact coral reefs restoration, Coral Vita helps preserve reefs for future generations while spurring the blue economy’s growth locally and globally.

Coral Vita’s land-based farms integrate breakthrough methods to accelerate coral growth up to 50x (micro fragmenting) while enhancing their resiliency to warming and acidifying oceans (assisted evolution). Coral Vita’s model scales: one land-based farm can potentially supply an entire nation’s reefs with sufficient capital investment.

Alongside this novel form of high-tech coral farming, Coral Vita is deploying an innovative for-profit model to sustain large-scale restoration. Given reefs’ tremendous value, they are working to transition restoration to a commercial industry. This unique model facilitates revenue generation and better scalability than any current restoration practitioners. Coral Vita sells reef restoration as a service to customers that depend on reefs’ benefits. As the farms grow diverse, resilient, and affordable coral for restoration projects, they also function as eco-tourism attractions and education centres. Guests pay to visit the farms, where they learn about the importance of protecting reefs, and how they can help, including by adopting coral or planting them with Coral Vita’s teams and local dive shops. Students, fishermen, and community members also visit the farm to build local capacity for future jobs in the blue economy, and Coral Vita emphasizes hiring locally as much as possible.



Water for Wildlife

Patrick Kilonzo Mwalua is acting to tackle a fundamental problem: water scarcity in wildlife zones! 

The project is all about water for wildlife as one way of conservation and reducing human-wildlife conflict for competing for the same water resource. Indeed, as the number of conflicts between humans and wild animals started to rise due to water scarcity, Patrick decided to bring in an efficient solution through re-watering the dry wildlife zones. Moreover, Patrick is also looking for innovative methodologies to make sure that animals have plenty of water into the wildlife zones.


parade for manta rays protection awareness

Planeta Océano: protecting the Giant Manta

Kerstin Forsberg is determined in engaging coastal fishermen communities of Peru in protecting the giant manta ! To do so, she created the marine educator’s teacher network as well as participatory research or community-based manta ray ecotourism. Planeta Océano engages coastal communities in marine conservation through research, marine education and sustainable development initiatives. These initiatives include:

1. Participatory research and citizen science: Local volunteers (fishermen, children, youth, among others) actively investigate local ecosystems, fisheries, and marine species, thus supporting local management efforts. Projects have included assessing shark and ray fisheries, pioneering manta ray conservation in Peru, assessing Traditional Ecological Knowledge on critically endangered sawfish, and supporting Marine Protected Areas.

2. Marine education: Incorporating and institutionalizing marine education and Ocean Literacy. Projects have included setting up Peru’s “Marine Educators Teacher Network” with over 50 schools, leading incubators for youth-lead environmental initiatives, game-based education and their Connecting Schools program, which aims to bring together students across borders through online technology and community engagement.

3. Sustainable development: Fostering environmental entrepreneurship and market-based approaches that contribute to marine conservation and socio-economic development. For example, pioneering community-based manta ray ecotourism in Peru as an alternate livelihood for low-income fishermen and local artisans.

Ultimately, these multidisciplinary and participatory efforts serve as a platform to connect multiple sectors in marine conservation, thus bringing together government, academia, youth, children, local fishermen, and many others.

Pristine Seas underwater cinematographer Manu San Félix swims through a school of thousands of black stripe salema at Isabela Island.

Pristine Seas Protection Project

Ocean life has a critical role in supporting all life on Earth. That is why Enric Sala founded National Geographic Pristine Seas, and together with partners and local communities have inspired the protection of 22 places in the ocean covering a total area of more than 5.8 million square kilometers — nearly half the area of the United States. Pristine Seas seeks to explore, document and inspire the protection of the last wild places in the ocean.

The project team works with partners, local communities and governments to help create marine reserves, using their unique combination of exploration, research and storytelling. These reserves have both local and global benefits. Local benefits include enhancing the sustainability of local fishing, perpetuating local cultures and lifestyles, developing ecotourism opportunities, enhancing coastal protection from storm surge, increasing food security, and improving livelihoods. Global benefits include mitigation of climate change via ocean carbon storage, as well as protection of biodiversity and associated ecosystem services.

Pristine Seas is working to help achieve a global goal of protecting 30 percent of the ocean by 2030, thereby bolstering marine biodiversity and improving food provision, while safeguarding the ability of the ocean to help mitigate climate change through carbon storage.



Wadi Degla Virtual Museum

In a quest to raise people’s awareness regarding Egypt’s natural heritage and specifically the Wadi Degla Protected Area, a group of citizens decided to use Virtual Reality to bring people closer to nature: when technology meets sustainable development! 

As part of Nature Conservation Egypt’s environmental education program, Wadi Degla Virtual Museum is a pioneering educational experience that provides environmental, historical, and geological awareness about Cairo’s gateway to the Eastern desert in a mobile and dynamic way. This project uses Virtual Reality (VR) technology to bring the public closer to nature and educate them about one of Egypt’s fascinating protected areas in the form of three 360-degree videos that cover the following topics:
1. The Geological History of Wadi Degla
2. The Biodiversity and Ecosystems of Wadi Degla
3. The Nature-friendly activities in Wadi Degla

They offer three main educational experiences:

Experience 1: An intimate closed lecture with select participants (max.16)
What it looks like: It is a 2-hour lecture that incorporates VR videos for all participants. At the end, all participants get printed educational material.

Experience 2: An open lecture followed by a closed VR experience session
What it looks like: It starts with an hour educational lecture that is open to anyone interested in learning about the Wadi Degla protectorate. Upon entrance, every attendant gets a raffle ticket. At the end of the lecture, 16 raffle tickets are randomly selected. Those whose numbers are chosen get to experience the WDVM videos with the team. All participants get printed educational material.

Experience 3: A public booth
What it looks like: Anyone interested can experience the VR and get educational material about the protected area.

Experience 4: A customized educational experience based on your context and preference.

To ensure the sustainability of this project, they often charge for this service the institution and communities that do not suffer from poverty. Compensation is based on a sliding scale depending on the recipient’s ability to pay. A small percentage of the fees goes towards maintaining the project’s equipment while the majority goes towards sponsoring a free event at another institution that cannot pay.



School Garden Initiative

Driven by community demand, Aaron Ebner has initiated the construction of greenhouses in schools, a unique tool for sustainable development education! The goal is to raise awareness about nutrition, responsibility and agriculture in schools of the Cusco region thanks to the participation of teachers in this programme. 

The AASD provides the materials and expertise for greenhouse construction. In coordination with the school, they develop a curriculum that gets students directly involved in the maintenance and management of their shared school greenhouse. The curriculum is highly participatory and practical with the intention of giving students improved understanding of nutrition, greenhouse cultivation, and a sense of empowerment that comes with responsibility.



Copyrights: The Mountain Institute

Ancestral Technologies and Climate Change

Reconnecting with ancestral traditions has saved communities living near the Peruvian Nor-Yauyos Cochas Landscape Reserve from water scarcity!  Together with Instituto de Montaña, local communities took the initiative to rebuild an abandoned ancestral hydraulic system, which today provides them with water storage and improved irrigation systems. 

In April 2013, Instituto de Montaña began working in Peru’s Nor-Yauyos Cochas Landscape Reserve (RPNYC) with communities affected by increasing water scarcity. Together, they rediscovered the existence of a vast, complex and partially abandoned hydraulic system to manage water in the alpine high-plateau, or Puna. Through a complex of dams and open earth canals, these systems increased soil and ground water storage, creating niche plant communities for camelid herds and improved water supplies to irrigation systems. Recognizing the potential of these ancestral systems to address modern-day water scarcity, they organized a process for dialogue between indigenous experts and multi-disciplinary teams of archaeologists, anthropologist and geo-hydrologists.

This transdisciplinary approach resulted in a suite of green-grey hybrid solutions adapted to the existing demographic, organizational and economic context of highland communities.


Eden In Iraq's Team

Eden in Iraq WasteWater Garden Project

Meridel Rubenstein and the Eden In Iraq team co-created this project with the goal of providing effective sewage treatment for the marsh arab community, one of the world’s oldest cultures, in southern Iraq. Currently, untreated sewage endangers both their health and the historic marshes.

The final aim: Eden In Iraq will transform human waste into a public wastewater garden and cultural heritage park using green plant’s phyto-remediation.

Eden In Iraq is a humanitarian water remediation project, expressed through wastewater garden design and environmental art, which will provide urgently needed health and clean water for southern Iraqis, their children, and future generations to come. Their solution utilizes simple and sustainable wastewater recycling technology to support a garden that embodies the rich cultural heritage and tradition of the marshes and the Marsh Arab community.

After seven years of intensive fieldwork, groundwork, and design preparation, they seek funds to realize this important ecological and cultural heritage project. they are ready to break ground on their given site in El Chibaish to begin the first third of the 26,500 square meter (6.5 acre) Public Wastewater Garden. Eden In Iraqseek a total of $1.7 million dollars to complete the detailed floral and cultural heritage design work for the entire garden in 2021.The wastewater garden features locally significant design details, making it a public site that emphasizes cultural heritage, while restoring health and offering ecological education.


-In the early 1990s, Saddam Hussein’s forces secretly drained the immense Southern Iraq wetlands to punish the Shi’a rebels hiding there. They transformed it into a desert, murdering tens of thousands of Marsh Arabs and compelling hundreds of thousands more to flee. Conflict and violence altered the Marshlands into a decimated parcel, disturbing its ecological composition, and leaving detrimental vestiges that still pose serious challenges to its survival.

-Since Hussein’s demise in 2003, three hundred thousand of the expelled Marsh Arabs have returned to re-green and restore the marshes, with the help of Nature Iraq NGO their sponsor. Due to the rapid environmental changes in the marshes, with the return of inhabitants, serious sewage and health problems have ensued. There is currently no sewage treatment in the Marsh Arab towns and cities–at most, sewage is pumped into a collection site and discharged without treatment into a river or marsh. This is causing odour and damage to the long-term ecology of the marshes and the health of the community.

The inauguration of Iraq’s first national park in 2013, the Mesopotamian Marshes National Park, demonstrates the country’s hope for environmental restoration and future tourism.
In July 2016, UNESCO designated the marshes and surrounding ancient sites of Eridu, Uruk and Ur, a World Heritage Site. Due to this recent designation, the traditional arts, crafts, and cultural heritage of the Marsh Arabs and the ancient Mesopotamian societies, as well as the landscape and biodiversity of the marshes, are being revived and preserved.

Eden In Iraq plans to build the very first demonstration Wastewater Garden in El Chibaish, Southern Iraq, in order to help the Marsh Arab communities, in the process of rebuilding their war-devastated homeland, solve issues of sewage, renew environmental stability and conserve a natural environment of Outstanding Universal Value (OUV).

Between 2014 and 2016, three of the largest town councils in the region enthusiastically approved of their garden by donating the use of five large sites, each serving 5-10,000 people. They understood that their current situation endangers both their health and the health of the wetlands. With the support of mayor Mr. Badeaa Al-kayoun, and regional governor of Dhi Qar, Mr. Yahya al-Nasiri, Eden In Iraq chose to build the first constructed wetland and wastewater garden at El Chibaish, along the north bank of the Euphrates River, in the Central Marshes. The city is an important urban area along the main road from Nasiriyah and Basra. Eden In Iraq hope this initial garden will serve as an important example of how this system can be implemented elsewhere within the country.

The site in El Chibaish is 26,250 square meters (2.5 hectares/6.4 acres), which allows for treatment of the sewage wastewater of 7,500 people. Currently, this wastewater is being discharged along an open canal and channeled into the marshes. It has a terrible smell and is unhealthy for all the boat traffic through the canal to the marshes.
The constructed wetland treatment will start with 7,000 square meters of reeds, which grow 1.8 meters tall. This first reed bed will immediately diminish the odor from the sewage. The wastewater will then go into the second phase of the garden: the “subsurface flow wetland.” Here, organic material of the sewage will be transformed by bacteria into mineral substances, cleaning the wastewater and simultaneously creating a beautiful and culturally significant garden by providing nutrients for plants and fruit trees. 

The garden will draw attention to Mesopotamian design and history. Woven embroidered Mesopotamian Wedding blanket patterns have inspired the garden’s blueprint and layout of its planting areas. The designs of this ancient woven craft are inspired by “nature and its biological diversity and also the spirit of ancestors”* within Marsh Arab culture, and are being passed down to new generations. 3,000-5,000 year old Sumerian Cylinder seals will inspire graphic design elements and ceramic wall reliefs.  Drawings and Blueprints are available. Eden In Iraq are ready to build…


Meridel Rubenstein, Project Director, conceptualized Eden In Iraq as a symbolic restoration of the fabled Garden of Eden. The Marsh Arabs, descendants of the original people of this historic area, are a preeminent example of refugees returning from exodus to their homeland. Rubenstein is an adjunct Professor in the School of Sustainability at Arizona State University, 2015-.  She was a Visiting Associate Professor at the School of Art, Design, and Media at Nanyang Technological University(NTU), 2007-18. She is also an internationally recognized artist working at the intersection of nature and culture, especially in relationship to ecological and social imbalance. Her photography, site-specific installations and research practice demonstrate skilled communication and collaboration with distinct groups around cultural and environmental issues. She has received numerous grants and awards including a Guggenheim Fellowship, and her work has been featured in exhibitions and publications worldwide. Her art and design studio is in Santa Fe, New Mexico, USA.

Jassim Al Asadi is the managing director of the regional Southern Iraq office of Nature Iraq (NGO). He has a Bachelor of Science in Engineering from the University of Technology, Baghdad, 1980, and extensive work experience as an engineer on water remediation projects throughout Iraq. He was Director of the socio-economic studies section for CRIM (Center for Restoration of Iraqi Marshlands) from 2003-05, and for MWoR (Ministry of Water Resources) from 1985-2003.
He has participated in numerous international meetings and conferences on the Iraqi wetlands, held in Switzerland, Italy, Jordan and Egypt. He also participated in the Strategic Plan for the Wetlands, the architectural sites in Iraq and the infrastructure planning in Southern Iraq.
He has lectured internationally: at the Workshop on Sustainable Communities, Cairo, 2006, UNEP meetings with Iraqi MoWR, Amman 2004, the International Conference of Donor Nations on Iraqi Marshlands, Venice, Italy, 2004, and workshops in Iraq related to the Iraqi Marshlands 2004-2012. He was the driving force at Nature Iraq to help bring the designation of the UNESCO World Heritage Site to the marshes and the ancient sites in 2016.

Mark Nelson, PhD, is a founding director of the Institute of Ecotechnics and has worked for several decades in closed ecological system research, ecological engineering, the restoration of damaged ecosystems, desert agriculture and wastewater recycling. He is Chairman and CEO of the Institute of Ecotechnics (www. ecotechnics.edu), a U.K. and U.S. non-profit organization, which consults to several demonstration projects working in challenging biomes around the world, and head of Wastewater Gardens International (www.wastewatergardens.com). He has written many books and has helped pioneer a new ecological approach to sewage treatment, “Wastewater Gardens®” which are constructed subsurface flow wetlands with high biodiversity and has created such systems over 150 countries. He is a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society, the Explorers Club and the World Academy of Arts and Sciences.  In one of Dr. Nelson’s book, features an essay on the Eden in Iraq Project with photographs by Meridel Rubenstein. 

Davide Tocchetto holds a PhD in environmental agronomy. Presently, he is a lecturer of Agronomy at an Italian high school. He developed his first career at Padova University with research in sustainable agriculture and wastewater treatment with constructed wetlands. He was a founding member of a University start-up to develop a water treatment patent. He was awarded an Innovation Prize for the “Techia” floating wetland patent and the “2008 start-up of the year” prize in Italy.
He is a freelance partner with numerous national and international companies in developing varying projects in different fields of operation outside of Italy. He was also a partner in the United Nations project “Green School for Gaza” where he studied and developed (with MCA Architects and UNRWA) the whole water circle and reuse system in a new school in the Gaza Strip. 

Zahra Souhail ,Project Manager, is a Dutch-Iraqi, born in Baghdad and raised in the Netherlands. She is a certified project manager with more than 10 years of professional experience working at some of the largest corporations in the Netherlands including Achmea and presently for the Municipality of Amsterdam. Having survived war and turmoil in her native country, Zahra is passionate about civil society and volunteering. She is a firm believer in the importance of education and knowledge exchange in the development of children and societies at large that have suffered from conflict and violence. Since 2018, Zahra has been a contributing member and Project Manager of the Eden of Iraq Wastewater Garden Project, a humanitarian water remediation project to provide urgently needed health and clean water for southern Iraqis, their children, and future generations to come. Fluent in English, Arabic and Dutch, Zahra is a keen explorer and has visited more than 40 cities around the globe. Traveling satisfies her curiosity about different people, cultures and history. 

In October 2019 Eden In Iraq were set to receive funds from the Iraq Ministry of Water Resources to begin building the first third of the wastewater garden this past winter with workers and equipment commensurate with $250,000.   This would immediately remove the sewage odour from the marshes. Just as they prepared to return to build, popular protests erupted causing the fall of the National government. The newly approved Minister of Water Resources, Mahdi Rashid Al-Hamdani, has written a new letter of support for the project. But with the fall in oil prices and Covid-19 affecting the Iraqi economy, the National Budget of which they once were part, is very diminished. New elections are now set for June 2021. So huge changes lie ahead but they will continue their fundraising efforts elsewhere until they can return.


Copyrights: Marion Chaygneau Dupuy

Clean Everest

To fight against pollution in the Himalayas, Marion Chaygneaud-Dupuy has created an annual expedition to clean the road from the north-east up to the summit of Everest. 10 tonnes of waste have been collected in 4 years. Marion’s initative allows local communities to enjoy having access to a clean environment. In the future, Clean Everest wishes to develop a portable ashtray, with a Clean Everest logo. It will be made of recycled trash from the highest peaks of the Himalayas. This symbolic ashtray will be carried by climbers on the mountains and will be a way to define oneself as a responsible climber. A larger community will be engaged in the protection of the mountain in the Himalayas and in other parts of the world. Climbers and non-climbers, anyone who is involved in collecting trash where they are, can join this larger community. Through sharing knowledge related to how to apply the mountain environmental charter, they plan partnerships in areas where the mountaineering industry is growing in a responsible way.


Founders of The Great Bubble Barrier

The Great Bubble Barrier

Saskia Studer has co-created a new technology to fight plastic pollution of rivers and oceans. A barrier of bubbles holds back the plastic, which is then picked up without disturbing our precious biodiversity. The Bubble Barrier is the first in the world which is used to capture plastic. They noticed that local people are always very interested and enjoy being involved. The Bubble Barrier is innovative because it is ship and fish-friendly and the Bubble Barrier reaches the entire width and depth of a river or canal. It helps to keep the local rivers clean as well as the oceans.

The Great Bubble Barrier has developed a technology which can intercept plastic pollution in rivers before it reaches the ocean: The Bubble Barrier, is a bubble curtain with a catchment system. The Bubble Barrier is a curtain made of bubbles that prevent plastics from floating down the river into our oceans. They create a Bubble Barrier by pumping air through a perforated tube on the bottom of the waterway. This bubble curtain creates an upward current which directs the plastics to the surface. The Bubble Barrier is a unique system that catches plastic over the whole width and depth of the river. By placing the Bubble Barrier diagonally in the river, the natural flow of the river will push the plastic waste to the side and into our catchment system. Here it will be retained and can easily be removed from the water by the authorities. A tailored design to local conditions will ensure optimal performance and requires no change in local infrastructure. An additional advantage of the system is that the oxygen level of the water increases, which can benefit the local ecology and restrain algae blooms.


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