To celebrate World Wildlife Day, we’ve interviewed two of our National Geographic Photo Ark EDGE Fellows, Daniel Arauz-Naranjo and Jamal Galves, to learn more about them and what they’re currently doing to help save marine wildlife. Each Fellow focuses their conservation efforts on an Evolutionarily Distinct and Globally Endangered (EDGE) species featured in the Photo Ark, Arauz-Naranjo focuses on conservation of the hawksbill turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata) and Galves works to protect the Antillean manatee (Trichechus manatus manatus).
The National Geographic Photo Ark is a multiyear effort to raise awareness of and find solutions to some of the most pressing issues affecting wildlife and their habitats. To support on-the-ground conservation efforts, the National Geographic Society has partnered with the Zoological Society of London’s EDGE of Existence programme to fund the National Geographic Photo Ark EDGE Fellowship. Each cohort of Fellows receives funding, training and capacity development to protect some of the world’s most at-risk animals that are featured in the Photo Ark.
Interviews have been edited and condensed for clarity.
Who are you and what do you do?
DAN: My name is Daniel Arauz-Naranjo. I’m a National Geographic Photo Ark EDGE Fellow and I am a biologist from Costa Rica studying the ecology of juvenile sea turtles. I primarily focus on my favorite species, the critically endangered hawksbill sea turtle.
JG: My name is Jamal Galves. I’m a National Geographic Photo Ark EDGE Fellow and I am the Belize program director for the Belize manatee conservation program at the Clearwater Marine Research Institute.
What inspired you to get into your current work?
JG: I grew up in Gales Point Manatee, Belize, famously known for the manatees there. As a kid, I would sit on my grandma’s lawn and observe manatee researchers’ vessels go by. This led to my cousins and me playing manatee researchers on the lawn, and we would fight over who got to drive the boat or be the doctor. When I was 11, I went to the dock from where the researchers leave (I wanted to play with the big boys and girls), and I approached the team leader and said, “I would like to come out with you guys.” He looked at me and said, “Ugh, you’re too small,” but my “I-am-about-to-cry” look changed his mind and he then said, “Kid, let’s go.” Because I got on that boat, my life changed and I saw the world in a completely new way. I learned about the threats manatees are facing and their fight for survival, and I decided that I wanted to help them in that fight.
What was your most exciting experience in the field?
DAN: During my monthly monitoring campaigns, I snorkel around rocky reefs trying to catch juvenile hawksbills using a special net. Once caught, the sea turtles are measured, weighed and tagged before being released at the same site. About a month ago, I encountered a medium-sized juvenile female hawksbill. As I approached her, I noticed she was very curious and was swimming right beside me. As soon as I caught her, I noticed she was not fighting, and I could feel with my hands that she seemed malnourished. Once ashore, I discovered she had a hook stuck in her throat. Without another thought, I put the sea turtle in my car and drove almost three-and-a-half hours to the nearest marine wildlife hospital. There, she had surgery, and a four-inch hook was removed from her throat. Days later, I received the video of the turtle finally feeding on her own, and that had to be the most exciting moment I have had.
JG: Taking people out to see manatees for the first time, especially kids. The look on their faces when the manatee comes up to the surface and they see it is so fulfilling. After seeing that a thousand times, I still get excited!
Tell us what’s important/exciting about your project.
DAN: The survival of young hawksbill turtles and the protection of their feeding grounds can have a significant effect on hawksbill population growth. By tracking the movements of young hawksbills, I aim to reach government authorities with a conservation plan for this species, focusing on critical areas that need to be protected in order to ensure their survival.
JG: I’m working to protect and ensure the survival of the Antillean manatee, a species that is not only charismatic and unique, but also critical to its ecosystem and human livelihoods. If completely lost, the impact would be devastating.
What actions can people take on World Wildlife Day?
DAN: This World Wildlife Day, I want to encourage everyone to become a better consumer.. Choose the planet and its wildlife over single-use plastic, support local farmers and local small-scale fishermen, and if you can, support local conservation efforts to save endangered species and habitats.
JG:No action is too small or too large. It could be as simple as sharing a social media post, or making a commitment to avoid single-use plastic and to leaving the planet as best we can for the next generation.
Is there anything else you’d like to share?
JG: Protection of this planet and our home is not just the job of conservationists. It is the responsibility of every living being that shares our world. To learn more about manatees in Belize check out the Clearwater Marine Aquarium.
DAN: If you want to learn more about my project, fieldwork and how to help me protect hawksbill turtles, please visit my digital journal at National Geographic’s Open Explorer.