Santiago Said, Action-Focused Biologist

Santiago Said, Action-Focused Biologist

Meet Santiago "Santi" Ramirez Said, a botanist and action-focused biologist working on interdisciplinary initiatives to address socio-environmental challenges such as climate change, biodiversity loss, Sargassum accumulation, deforestation, gender/sexual identity discrimination and the refugee crisis.


9 - 12+


Storytelling, Biology, Ecology, Sociology

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Early Work

As a biologist by training, the first time I started working with local communities on conservation was when my friend Felipe invited me to support a project he was leading with Indigenous Peoples in Central America. Once I started working on the social, cultural, and economic aspects of nature conservation, I could never work on any biological or conservation project without a strong human component. This took me from initially working with plants and Indigenous communities to working with cameras and drones to empower youth in rural Latin America, to working with Coastal Communities to adapt to Sargassum tides (Sargassum is a type of seaweed), to working with refugees.

I am Colombian and Lebanese. You can already imagine the stories in my family that I grew up with. It’s nothing short of a novel. The story of my grandparents and parents is a mixture of emotions, from forced migration, to victims of armed groups, to powerful women sustaining families alone, to hiding from violent political dynamics, to healing in the warmth of family, to moving to new continents in search of a better future. This made me very fond of working with identities that represent me and the histories of my family and friends that make me who I am now. This is why I always want to make a difference in Latin America and the Middle East and why I am especially fond of highlighting the importance of women, refugees, and the LGBTQIA+ community in all my work.

Most Exciting Part of Your Work

The most exciting part of my work, hands down, is seeing the direct positive impact my work and research have on local partners and collaborators, especially when they are Latin American or Middle Eastern like myself. Not many of us have the chance to work in fields where we can see the impacts of our work firsthand. Seeing Indigenous youth engaged in photography to tell the stories of their community, experiencing the courage in refugee stories after a successful workshop, or local communities getting together to clear their homes from invasive seaweed, are all moving examples of how our collective work can spark little flames that lead to lasting positive change in people and nature. Seeing these benefits firsthand is priceless, and there is a special sweetness to it when your work benefits an underrepresented group like refugees, LGBTQIA+ people, or Indigenous youth in Latin America.

Most Demanding Part of Your Work

I would say there are two things that I find especially demanding about my work.

First, it’s constant traveling. This is a double-edged sword. I love traveling and experiencing new cultures, ecosystems, animals, plants, and novel experiences. At the same time, this makes it difficult to nourish relationships in all these places, and it’s particularly relevant if you are thinking about finding a partner. Many of my friends and colleagues have found partners that also have to travel constantly for work, so I guess this is something to keep in mind for sure!

Second, and perhaps the most challenging, is adapting and understanding the different ways of perceiving life and society in all the different places I go. Let’s take, for example, women or LGBTQIA+ rights, since it's very relevant to our chat today. From our western point of view, we already have in mind a series of rights and liberties that should be guaranteed to these groups. However, I work in places where these groups are perceived and treated very differently. Something that can seem very clear from a western perspective can be challenging to people from other thinking and societal systems.

What Being an Explorer Means to You

You feel something very special when you work to support those identities and stories that represent who you are. Latin America is vast, diverse, and beautiful, full of marvels and magic. Despite this, all Latin Americans have experienced at some point how the magic of our continent is sometimes clouded by the overwhelming number of challenges we face. From rampant nature exploitation to inequality and violence, there are many challenges in our beloved Latin America. However, we still know how fantastic this place is and why we must protect its wonders. It is truly an honor to work with my people to illuminate the world on our continent's extraordinary cultural and natural heritage and spend my time ideating equitable ways of protecting it.

Explorer Work Showcase
For the next three years, we will work on the Atlantic coasts of Mexico and Brazil, developing strategies with community leaders to increase their preparedness for Sargassum tides. Sargassum is a type of free-floating seaweed that has been causing a series of negative impacts in over 21 countries in the tropical Atlantic, including impacts to biodiversity, human health, air quality, and the coastal ecosystem in general. It is a project with many aspects, but I am particularly interested in the educational workshops we have in mind, which will be led by community leaders and supported by our team. We will train our local partners in drone monitoring so they can contribute to international AI algorithms to track Sargassum better, which in turn helps them prepare better for its arrival. Additionally, we will explore with the community what are the most financially viable products for the community to transform the seaweed, so we can support local women and LGBTQ+ community members in the creation of blue circular economies that help protect coastal ecosystems.

So, You Want To Be an Action-Focused Biologist

Get to know the people living where your study subject or site is. Share with them, learn about their needs and hopes for the future, and learn about their realities. True conservation must involve active communities and a healthy environment that can provide for the community and future generations. There is no conservation in the 21st century if we remove people from the picture. Remember to be inclusive, empathetic, and open to hearing other perspectives and ways of perceiving life.

Get Involved

We will work for the next 3-4 years with local communities in the Mexican Caribbean and the Brazilian Amazon, with a special emphasis on supporting rural women and LGBTQIA+ people to better adapt to massive Sargassum landings. Our project will focus on several educational workshops and methodologies for using Sargassum as an economical means for these groups. We will also incorporate a monitoring aspect of drone and AI monitoring of the seaweed and provide this information to the communities. If people ever want to engage, we will be looking for volunteers in these two field sites. Stay tuned because we will share lots of information and educational material on Sargassum and community adaptation in the coming months!

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Last Updated

June 3, 2024

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