Through firm leadership, the naturalized Mexican biologist has transformed scientific knowledge into public policy, and created models for conservation.
It’s easy to describe how he looks if we use an anecdote that he himself tells with dry humor. Several of his friends have suggested that he enter the contest that Sloppy Joe’s bar, in Florida, organizes year after year to choose the person with the closest physical resemblance to Ernest Hemingway.
Exequiel Ezcurra is, like the 1954 Nobel laureate for Literature, an old hand at what he does but, in this case, it is at conservation.
Born in Argentina and exiled to Mexico as a result of the dictatorship that enveloped the South American country in the 1970s, the biologist and professor at the University of California Riverside serenely disowns both his original nationality (my ‘former countrymen’ he says, referring to the Argentines) and his first degree in agricultural science.
“I studied agricultural science (but) very quickly I realized that (…) the only desire a farmer has for modern techniques is to be able to use excessive herbicides and pesticides so that there is only the crop and everything else dies,” he says.
He came to Mexico at the invitation of Gonzalo Halffter Salas, one of the deans of biology, who invited the young Ezcurra to work here.
“I was dazzled by Mexico, by its biodiversity, by the richness of its ecosystems, by its culture and by its people. I already knew that what interested me was preserving the diversity of the planet, and not just biological diversity.”
His greatest battles always follow the same strategy: to transform his scientific research into public policy.
His achievements are numerous: “UNESCO recognized the Pinacate (Pinacate Reserve and the Great Altar Desert) as a World Heritage Site… that was one of the places where I have spent parts of my life when there was nothing there, it was a no man’s land; the protected areas in Baja California: the whales arrive there every year; the conservation of Cabo Pulmo (a maritime reserve whose model is recognized worldwide); the Revillagigedo Islands (biosphere reserve)… yes we have done lots of things.”
For Ezcurra (who received the 2020 award for science diplomacy from the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) this year) the planet is making an emergency call.
“There is growing concern for the global state of the planet, which we call the biosphere, and our capacity as human beings to sustainably manage it. Many of the things that have happened in the past few months, and in the past two years, have been an extremely important wake-up call. I could give you lots of examples, but let’s start with the wildfires in California last year, and in Australia this year.”
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