Laura Daniela Benítez, Colombia

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Laura Daniela Benítez, Yubarta Foundation, Colombia     


2017 Profile: *-ORGANIZATION’S WORK: The Yubarta's Foundation is a colombian Non Governmental Organization (NGO), with enviromentaloading....l character and nonprofit, wich objective is tend to the conservation of the fauna and flora acuatic species, with emphasis in marine mammals; understanding the conservation like a sum of efforts directed to know and educate to value and use the renovables resources in a susteinable way. The Yubarta's Foundation is composed by professionals who make activities in two principal areas: Scientist Investigation and Education.
This work begun in 1986 and it remains until the present time, with a amplified perspective in the thematic (Genetic, behavior, biogeography and sustainable use), and the geographic matter (Colombian pacific and Chile's Patagonia). The contribution to the acuatic mammals conservation has been achivied through the scientific knowledge generation about their biology and echology (Investigation projects development, participatio in nationals and internationals congress, and scientific publications), the education and sensitization of the community (capacitation and advice about the cetacean observation tourism like a sustainable resources use way, new profesionals formation, participation and advice in documentals, speeks, conferences, divulgative exposures, printed products, whales adoption programs), and regulation and management proposals (Whale watching rules, management plans bases in National Parks).


*-ROLE IN THE ORGANIZATION: My interest in researching marine mammals led me to the Yubarta`s Foundation, loading....and since 2012 I am part of this organization. I started as a volunteer systematizing data and organizing information of the monitoring of humpback whales and other marine mammals that arrive and inhabit the coasts of the Colombian Pacific. Two years later, I began my undergraduate research project to obtain the title of Biologist at the Universidad del Valle (Cali-Colombia). My work aimed to evaluate the spatial and temporal distribution of the humpback whale in the Uramba Bahía Málaga National Natural Park (NNP). This place is located in the Colombian Pacific and is one of the most important sites of Colombia and the world where this species reproduces. My training, my fieldwork and my first direct contact with humpback whales was in the Gorgona NNP. With the help of Lilián Flórez, Foundation`s director, for two months we monitored the marine mammals that live and arrive in the park on a seasonal basis.

During this fieldwork I carried out several functions such as recording data about behavior and social structure, taking photographs and skin samples, whale songs recording and search for bone remains on the beaches. Subsequently, we wrote a report for the Natural Park on the conservation state of the observed marine loading....mammals. The following year (2015) I wrote the final manuscript of my undergraduate thesis, that was directed by Lilián Flórez and the professor Alan Giraldo from Universidad del Valle. I also had the opportunity to participate in the XVI Latin American Sea Science Congress (COLACMAR), the XVI National Seminar on Marine Sciences and Technologies (SENALMAR) and in the 21st Biennial Conference on the Marine Mammals: Bridging the Past toward the Future.

In 2016 I obtained the title of Biologist with emphasis in Marine Biology. In that year I worked as a field assistant in a project of humpback whales` marking, which was carried out by the Yubarta`s Foundation along with Conservation International (CI). I done the terrestrial monitoring, and supported maritime monitoring. As part of my duties within the loading....Foundation, I digitalized the information on the monitoring carried out by the Foundation in the Gorgona NNP from 1986 to 2016, using the Darwin Core format. In October 2016 I participated again as researcher in the Project "Monitoring of humpback whales and other marine mammals of the Gorgona NNP ". A month later the Cetacean Society International granted me a travel scholarship to attend the SOLAMAC Congress held in Valparaíso Chile. In addition, I won a inscription scholarship to the Congress, given by Meri Foundation. In the framework of the congress I had the opportunity to exhibit my degree work and participate in a photography contest, obtaining the first place in the "Action Category".

Currently, I am linked to the project "Monitoring of humpback whales and other marine mamals of the National Natural Park Gorgona", the project is an alliance between National Parks of Colombia and Fundación Yubarta.


history of your personal work in conservation and GIS: Since I was in high school I have had an affinity for the natural sciences, something that was motivated in my house since my father is a physical-mathematician and my mother is a nature`lover. That's how I decided to study Biology. Initially, there were many fields of biology that I liked, but with the passage of time and accumulated field`experiences, marine biology conquered me. This is how I started to participate in conservation projects related to coral reefs and ichthyology. I took courses such as marine ecology and oceanography, which gave me unique experiences of knowledge and life. I continued the search for my true passion, and I knew the world of marine mammals through the Yubarta`s Foundation. And since then, I came to stay.

When I was finishing my undergraduate studies I found the GIS´world and its wonderful uses. It was inevitable that I would ask myself where GIS had been all this time and where I was that I did not know about it. So I said: SIG, you did not late and you did it at the bestloading....moment! It´s time to learn! GIS, along with whales, aroused my passion. Since that, my work with GIS has been related to research and conservation of marine mammals, with emphasis on the ecological study of the humpback whale.

Recognizing the importance of GIS made me realize that I should continue learning and improving my skills to use it. I even thought about taking a postgraduate course on GIS in Australia. I heard about it in a congress I attended in Santa Marta (Colombia) in 2015, an idea that still sounds in my head. 2016 came with the expectation of the SOLAMAC Congress in Chile, as it was the opportunity to show my work to cetacean experts from Latin America. Whales and GIS shone in Valparaiso and the congratulations were not long in coming.

Recognizing the work that you do in conservation brings many joys, but returning to my country and facing some local realities brings despair. In Gorgona, such a special place, the building license of a naval base of the navy was approved ... and nobody did anything to prevent it. After having spent several seasons on the island and having known firsthand all the wonders that surrounds it, and at the same time how fragile it is, together with a small group of friends we decided to start doing something. In a matter of weeks we designed a campaign that made visible the threat to the island, we spread out a petition to collect signatures ( and started an activism in favor of the island. The problem came to the national newspapers. Researchers and citizens began to pronounce. It was achieved that the construction of the station stopped temporarily, a space in which more arguments will be assembled to demonstrate the madness of such a Project.

I have understood that interest in conservation must go beyond an academic role. It should be complemented with the appreciationloading.... for what you want to conserve, and the ability to dream that things can be otherwise. Usually, people in these situations say that acts realistically because they think that nothing can be done. But I have realized that this realism is another name for conformism, not to take sides for something. This experience of conservation from two different ambits taught me that the academic world should not be far from environmental and social realities, and that as well as it contributed to knowledge, can also contribute with an attitude so that the planet does not deteriorate more. After all, an environmental problem does not distinguish between a scientist and a peasant.


Your connection to the local SCGIS chapter: At the end of 2016, during my participation in the GIS Workshop (led by Federico Riet Sapriza who shared me this training), I knew about the existence of SCGIS. Thus, I learned about the different international and regional chapters, such as Latin America, which I hope to be part of it in the near future.
In my region (Cali-Colombia), I know people who also work with GIS in their research, but independently. However, among several people we maintain contact to help us. It was very important for me to meet Federico, to learn from him and to know that thanks to his dedication he is not only an advanced user of GIS, but now he is a Juniper GIS Authorized Insrtuctor. He became my bridge to the SCGIS and my inspiration to follow this path.


2017 Paper  TITLE:  "Occupancy rate and habitat preference of humpback whales in the Gorgona Natural National Park, Colombia"
ABSTRACT "This study was carried out in Gorgona National Natural Park, one of the five most important zones of Colombia for breeding of the humpback whale (Megaptera novaeangliae) in the Southeast Pacific. Gorgona Island is part of the IUCN Green List, a global recognition for the good management and promotion of scientific research in a protected area. Given the current threat facing the island due to the construction of a Coast Guard Station and the reopening of tourism in the area, it is important to study the distribution of this population of whales in areas with presence of vessels. The objective of this study is to know the occupation rate and habitat preference of seven different types of groups of humpback whales regarding to depth and distance to the coast. Maritime monitoring was conducted on a 22 ft fiberglass craft with outboard motor. Data were collected from September 13th to November 8th, 2014. Navigation effort was 108.30 hours, and effective tracking of 57.67 hours. A total of 103 groups were observed. The analysis of this information is currently underway and ArcGis 10.4.1 software will be used. For distance, five categories (0.02-0.3 km, 0.3-1.0 km, 1.0-3.0 km, 3-5 km, 5-7 km) will be established. For depth will be four (˂10 m, 10-30 m, 30-50, ˃50 m). Through the spatial tools options, the occupancy rate of the whales`groups in each category (zonal statistics) will be calculated, and the habitat preference of the different groups (Extraction) will be examined. These results will be important to conservation efforts and will serve as a reference for establishing priority management areas during humpback whale season in Gorgona.














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