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Bianca Graulau documents Puerto Rico’s endangered beaches on TikTok and YouTube

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A 45-minute drive from where Bianca Graulau lives in Camuy, Puerto Rico is her favorite beach. Beige grains of sand stretch along Crash Boat Beach in Aguadilla, Puerto Rico, where you can surf and munch on local food. This is where Graulau, a 31-year-old Puerto Rican, spent her summers and Christmas holidays as a young adult.

She wasn’t there for the hype, however. Graulau often went to catch up with his aunt, who preferred a place away from the crowds along some rocks. It was his routine, when this part of the beach still existed.

It’s gone now. The ocean ate it.

“The water is hitting the rocks now,” Graulau told Zoom with her long, dark hair in her signature style: natural loose waves running down her shoulders. “I visited the beach again and I was like, ‘Oh my god. Where did the beach go? “

This topic – sea level rise and erosion engulfing Puerto Rico’s beaches – was the subject of Graulau’s first YouTube video in 2019. Since then, the reporter has racked up nearly 40,000 subscribers on YouTube and over 326,000 subscribers on TikTok.

Graulau continues to cover the transformation of Puerto Rico across its various platforms. It’s a transformation that she is now dedicated to capturing, documenting and sharing with the world. This first video now has more than 1.4 million views.

“This video really resonated because everyone sees it,” Graulau said. “If you grew up in Puerto Rico going to a specific beach, you see it slowly disappear.”

That’s what makes Graulau’s storytelling so special: It connects. She dares to do what few other journalists would do in front of the camera: it becomes personal. “It allows me to connect with my viewers and my subscribers as a human,” Graulau said, “as a fellow Puerto Rican who is going through the same issues as the rest of the population here.”

She often speaks directly to members of the local community and experts in her videos. She loves following the latest TikTok trend, but she also asks the tough questions. Graulau does not apologize and is not afraid.

She has worked hard to reach that place where she is comfortable and confident in her own skin. She spent years doing news reports where bosses told her to straighten her hair and lose her accent. The image was everything. In 2020, she finally resigned. She wanted to work for herself and take the lead.

“I think being independent kind of removes that part of you that always asks, ‘Oh, what are the bosses going to think about this? “” said Graulau. “Now I worry about my audience.”

Bianca Graulau loves following the latest TikTok trend, but she also asks the tough questions.

She mainly focuses on the problems at home – and she is already leaving an impression across the archipelago. Ivonne del C. Díaz, professor of environmental economics at the University of Puerto Rico in Mayagüez, used Graulau’s video on sea level rise in the classroom.

The video isn’t just about the rising oceans. It also shows the economic disparities that exist in Puerto Rico – and the different ways that climate change affects different communities. While private developers can afford to buy beaches, local families who have had these views for free for generations now face the reality that they stand to lose everything they have.

“You can see his concern,” Díaz said in response to the Spanish video. “This work is important because sometimes we talk about these issues in class, and it seems distant to the students. After watching these kinds of videos, students can see how much she cares about her, and it feels more real. “

Díaz doesn’t remember how she found Graulau’s work, but she remembers appreciating how original and interactive it was. The economics professor knew the video would also help her students make the connection between economic issues and environmental and social issues.

And all of this is intentional in Graulau’s stories. Lately, she has been thinking a lot about colonization and how history interacts with the ongoing climate crisis. His latest plays reflect this interest: “Does the United States still have colonies?” is the most recent video on Graulau’s YouTube channel.

However, the effects of that first video on sea level rise – the one that launched Graulau’s independent career – are still felt throughout his own life. One of Graulau’s best friends America Arias worked with her on the video. Arias, another television news producer, makes an appearance to take notes while Graulau interviews a local oceanographer. The couple met in Puerto Rico about 12 years ago at a conference for the National Association of Hispanic Journalists. The two Latinas didn’t start right away, but they became inseparable after 2012.

Graulau and Arias both lived in Sacramento, Calif., Worked at local stations, and felt professionally dissatisfied. In 2016, the two journalists took a risk that changed their lives. They spent a month creating unpaid content just for themselves. They went to North Dakota for a week to cover the Standing Rock movement. They visited the US-Mexico border together. Arias hadn’t been since she crossed paths illegally when she was little and wanted to tell stories about the area.

Despite the protection offered by the Deferred Action Program for Childhood Arrivals, Arias was nervous. The sound of helicopters broke out. By the third visit, the team had enough for a story.

And yet Graulau never pushed her. She was always patient. And the stories really mattered. “We were so happy to continue the stories we really care about,” Arias said. You can hear the respect in her voice as she talks about how far her best friend has come since her early days in California.

Graulau was a fast fashion consumer at the time. She would buy a ton of cheap clothes and jewelry to look great and please her superiors. Today she’s making videos on how to buy less. Graulau preaches the word. Her birthday in March was the last time Arias had seen her. The birthday girl “hates buying new things,” Arias said, so she gave him second-hand items that she picked up from yard sales for two months: ceramic planters, clothes, a carpet. She also packed the ingredients to make the perfect vegan and gluten-free cake. They stayed up late that night, eating cake and catching up.

“We had a moment where I told her I was really proud of her,” Arias said, her voice broken. No gift she gave the birthday girl could live up to what Graulau gave her: the opportunity to see her grow and flourish. Arias described her friend not as a different person but as “the person she always needed to be”.

“How lucky am I to witness this?” she said, “and she’s just getting started.”

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