Meet Sandra Mendoza Quiroz
Sandra in the lab (Photo by Paul Selvaggio)
At the coast of Quintana Roo, Mexico, coral reefs are in dire condition. Like many other places in the Caribbean, coral cover has declined to a very low level, and key reef-building species such as the critically endangered elkhorn coral have decreased to alarming numbers.
For a decade, SECORE's very own Sandra Mendoza Quiroz has been raising new generations of corals at the Riviera Maya in Mexico. Thinking about all these years, she told us, "Watching the corals that I outplanted almost ten years ago has been a great personal achievement and seeing that some of them have joined in the annual spawning event is very gratifying." Without any doubt, this is an outstanding accomplishment and proof of her dedication.
From left to right: 6-month-old coral recruit at UNAM; Young elkhorn coral; Coral recruits (Photos by Sandra Mendoza Quiroz)
Sandra works closely with our project lead on-site, Anastazia Banaszak (Coralium Lab), who admires her patience and attention to detail. As a result, she believes, "One of the major reasons why we have mature Acropora colonies is because of the wonderful care that Sandra gave to the corals when they were in the most difficult growing phase."
The Coralium Lab and Marine Research Station of the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México in Puerto Morelos is a place to share knowledge and bring scientists and practitioners from all over the Caribbean together. Additionally, this includes school projects, public events to spread the word about corals, and our joint work on sustainable, nature-based coral restoration. Besides Sandra's routine in the lab and the field, she also helps with these outreach activities and is equally committed, "One of the things that give me hope is the number of people who come to the events where we show what corals are, explain how they reproduce, and emphasize the importance of the reef. It is very gratifying to see surprised expressions when local people observe the coral polyps under the microscope for the first time. They learn that corals are fabulous living beings, but at the same time, they understand that these animals are very sensitive and in danger."
From left to right: UNAM (Vanessa Cara-Kerr); Sandra in the lab (Aric Bickel); Outreach activities (Anastazia Banaszak)
On top of her work with Anastazia at Coralium Lab, there have been several opportunities for Sandra to participate at other SECORE field locations. She appreciates these new experiences and considers that "Each time has been very enriching both personally and professionally." Whenever she joined other SECORE teams she feels that, "Learning and contributing as much as possible has been the main objective, as in each place there are different circumstances regarding the current problem and the resources available to face it." She adds that "Even when the methods are very similar, each workgroup has a special touch to achieve its objectives. Transmitting my experiences to other locations or implementing new ones at my workplace in Mexico has been a very positive experience."
Sandra joining a workshop with our implementation partner Fundemar in the Dominican Republic (Photos by Paul Selvaggio)
Sandra finds her motivation to accomplish coral reproduction projects in "the reef's poor condition and its accelerated deterioration in recent years." She believes "that although the process to obtain new sexual recruits that may be viable in the natural environment is slow, it is still feasible. In this regard, we already have some encouraging results, so we should continue making recruits as long as possible."
One of the things that Sandra loves most about her profession is "being in contact with nature while studying wonderful animals like corals." For her, "coral spawning is still the most spectacular event — It is harmonious and enigmatic. It is like a message of perpetuity for the planet."
We're proud to announce that Sandra got promoted this month and is now SECORE's Mexico Restoration Coordinator. Additionally, she will finally get the much-needed support from Tania Dobledo Speck, who joined us as Caribbean Training Coordinator, making our team in Mexico complete. Despite the continuous challenges of the last year, Sandra's positive nature spreads hope for the future of coral reefs!
Photo by Sandra Mendoza Quiroz