Dr. Osvel Hinojosa Huerta is a conservationist and 2012 Emerging Explorer. He works with environmental coalitions, governments, businesses, and citizen groups to resurrect the delta of the Colorado River. Restoring the delta wetlands, near the Gulf of California in Mexico, will contribute to the area’s biodiversity as well as its economy.
Despite growing up in the large urban area of San Luis Colorado, Sonora, Mexico, Osvel managed to find an instant connection with the natural world at a young age.
“There was always this connection with nature,” he says. “But at the same time, I will also have to say that television had a big affect on me. The Jacques Cousteau documentaries and nature documentaries were very influential with connecting with nature.”
Osvel quickly discovered his passion, to restore the ecosystem of the Colorado River Delta. Millions of American and Mexican consumers depend on the freshwater of the Colorado River for drinking, hygiene, irrigation, and industry. The river’s flow is very controlled, and dams have reduced the extent of the delta wetlands by more than 90 percent in the last century.
For more than 15 years, Osvel has been working with communities along the river’s drainage basin to restore water back to the delta.
“It takes time,” says Osvel. “But once you find common ground and make it clear that everyone is working toward a common goal, which is to improve conditions for everyone, then it’s easier to make progress, but it takes time.”
MOST EXCITING PART OF YOUR WORK
“The hope that we can restore nature, seeing the results, and enjoying the results. Going back to a place that has been protected or restored and looking at how it thrives again and how the wildlife thrives, it’s amazing.”
MOST DEMANDING PART OF YOUR WORK
“The main challenge we have is nature has no allocation of water. So, we are changing that and that is the main challenge. We have failed to recognize that nature needs water also, not just using it for our agricultural industry. We need to dedicate water to connect the rivers to the seas.”
HOW DO YOU DEFINE GEOGRAPHY?
“Geography is this great tool to understand the patterns of the world. Not just nature, but humans and their interactions between culture, society, environment, vegetation, and animals. Geography offers all of these tools.”
“Wetlands provide a lot of services to the world,” Osvel says. “They are great representatives of biodiversity. Many species live in wetlands. In many ways, they are the kidneys of the world. They clean the water and also provide protection against floods, storms, and hurricanes. They are very important.”
Osvel and his team use different techniques to understand the Colorado River Delta. By mapping wetland areas that have been lost, as well as those that remain, they are able to understand the important connection we have with freshwater.
“By using techniques like mapping and remote sensing, we started to learn the potentials and it has been very important,” he says. “It also links to the political geography and how different users deal with the water in the basin and understanding the political geography of water, so we can understand where the solutions can come from.”
SO, YOU WANT TO BE A . . . CONSERVATIONIST
Osvel encourages students to learn all they can about water, because many times it is taken for granted.
“We turn on our tap, but we don’t know where the water comes from and how much it really costs to bring that water to our houses,” he says. “So, learn about your watershed, where the water is produced, where the system goes, what are the important environmental values of your watershed and what are the conservation concerns of that watershed.”
“Learn. Go out and get engaged with the groups that are out there doing great work. There are many water-keepers around to learn from. There are also many grass roots organizations that deal with the health of rivers and water, especially in the U.S., there are plenty of these organizations. Try to learn from them and support their causes,” he says.