Living with bees: How these tiny insects are saving our ecosystems

This month is the first of our ORIGINal Thinkers series, where we’ll be sharing people and projects around the world who inspire us.

To kick off this series, we have caught up with Leo Thom, creative director of the amazing The Mangrove Action Project.

Leo is currently on the island of Koh Klang in Southern Thailand capturing the story of how coastal people are changing their relationship with stingless bees…

Hi Leo, tell us a bit more about what you do?

Hey! I work for The Mangrove Action Project which is all about preserving and restoring the world’s mangrove forests through training and educational programs.

Tell us what is so special about mangroves?

Mangroves are totally undervalued ecosystems! Living between land and sea have huge potential to fix our climate.

Mangroves store far more carbon than inland rainforests, help to enhance the world’s biodiversity by acting as nurseries for marine life and are home to many species of land mammals and migrating birds.

They also provide numerous benefits to local people including protection from tsunamis and storms, as well as a plentiful food source.

Sadly, they are considered by many as unimportant wastelands and continue to be cleared in many places, which is why we want to raise awareness of their importance. 

At least half of all mangrove forests in Thailand have been destroyed, leading to many negative impacts to the coastal environment and people.

As sea levels continue to rise with an increase in extreme weather events, coastal communities have become extremely vulnerable.

What current project are you working on? 

I’ve just completed an MA in Wildlife Filmmaking at UWE Bristol, in association with the BBC’s Natural History Unit, with a view to becoming a self shooting director of natural history films.

My aim is to combine my love of mangroves with these new filmmaking skills. I’m currently developing a series of character led mangrove films around the tropics to raise awareness - starting with a film about stingless bees in Thailand. 

Living with Bees will shine a light on an incredible connection one village has developed with pollinators, as we follow one woman’s journey of discovery; that introducing bees into the mangroves could be the key to saving her and her village.

Tell us more about stingless bees!

Stingless bees are one of the biggest pollinators of mangrove forests and people are adapting their lives so that they can harvest valuable honey and the bees can help enhance the environment.

There is one village community who are reinventing their relationship with mangroves and have taken up beekeeping as a way to save their remaining forests and restore the ones that have been lost.

Since 2009, the village of Nai Nang have been conserving their mangroves and combining working with bees to help pollinate their forests.

For them, the bees have become crucial in keeping Nai Nang’s mangroves thriving and provides a sustainable income, while the project conserves a number of endemic and native bee species, in the fight for biodiversity. 

The community-led project has been so successful, they are now training other coastal communities so that they can also start earning an income while protecting the environment.

This mutual and harmonious relationship between people, bees and mangroves, has become a positive nature-based conservation solution and the project aims to spread this model so that more villages along Southern Thailand can thrive with nature. 

How can people support what you do? 

You can find out more Living With Bees and support the project here