Environmental Stewardship Award
Valeria Souza - 2020
Valeria Souza is an ecologist whose research and conservation efforts focus on the Cuatro Ciénegas basin in northern Mexico. The Cuatro Ciénegas is a spring-fed wetland complex that supports numerous endemic microbes, snails, crustaceans, aquatic insects, fishes, and the world’s only aquatic species of box turtle. Valeria’s research is documenting threats to critical habitat within this global biodiversity hotspot due to increased groundwater extraction in the region.
Valeria’s research translates into outreach that builds support for conservation. She developed a biology curriculum that educates students about the value of spring ecosystems and provides pathways through local governmental and academic institutions that lead to employment. Investment in education and opportunity is transforming rural high schools in the region while building social awareness about environmental issues. Valeria also regularly organizes events that link scientists working in the basin with local people, initiates production of public media that highlight the wonders of and threats to Cuatro Ciénegas and promotes biodiversity loss issues through numerous Mexican and international news outlets.
Valeria has persisted as a conservation voice for Cuatro Ciénegas by taking every opportunity to reach out, bridge divides and seek solutions that benefit everyone. Her work has increased local environmental regulation and attracted the attention of Mexico’s most influential figures. Valeria’s balanced research and outreach approach inspired a charitable donation that preserved a large tract of the Cuatro Ciénegas, promoting conservation and research efforts for years to come.