The Society for Marine Biology Conservation (SCB) recently announced the creation of the Jairo Mora Sandoval Award, named after the murdered Costa Rican environmentalist. In the future the organization will recognize and award those individuals who are considered an example for bravery when it comes to marine conservation, whether they are involved in scientific aims, public engagement, or activism.

Jairo's murders convicted
Jairo’s murders convicted

Jairo Mora Sandoval was a turtle protector on the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica. His life was violently ended on May 30th, 2013 at the Moín Beach, near Puerto Limón. Jairo was kidnapped, along with four volunteers (three Americans and one from Spain), while driving along the beach monitoring nesting sea turtles. After their kidnapping, the poachers separated Jairo from the other (female) volunteers. The women managed to escape and warned the police. Tragically help came too late, and Jairo’s beaten body was found on the beach the next morning. He was only 26 years old.

Jairo’s story does not stand on its own, or end with his death. The SCB Marine Section is hoping that this Award will bring more attention to the persecution of conservation biologists. “Dozens of conservationists are killed every year working to protect the environment. It occurs around the world, but particularly in developing countries. Despite the numbers, this issue remains largely unnoticed”, said Mel Cosentino in the organization’s press release.  Cosentino is a member of the SCB Marine Section Policy Committee which is behind the initiative.

The Jairo Mora Sandoval Award is the first Award that recognizes and honors the work that dedicated but often anonymous people do for the planet, while potentially putting their lives at risk. Nearly 1,000 conservation biologists were murdered between 2002 and 2014, according to Global Witness.

Moin Beach Hatchery
Moin Beach Hatchery

Didiher Chacon, the Costa Rican country coordinator of WIDECAST (Wider Caribbean Sea Turtle Conservation Network) thinks the Award is a great way to create awareness for the work of conservationists. Chacon used to work with Jairo, and continues his work at the Moín Beach hatchery. Chacon remembers Jairo well. “I met him for the first time when he was only seven years old.  Jairo visited the hatcheries at Playa Gandoca, and came back every year to release the baby turtles. His interest in the turtles grew, and by the time he was 20 years old, he had already worked everywhere throughout the Caribbean as a conservationist”.

Jairo Mora Sandoval
Many show gratitude for his efforts.

Chacon hopes that all of Jairo’s work and his history will inspire people, especially the local youth, and create more interest in the work done at these rescue centers. “The young people in Puerto Limón seem to have other life goals at the moment.  They care less about the work of conservationists. But the new Award might encourage people to stay out of trouble, such as the drug scene, and to feel more involved. We simply need more people like Jairo”.

The Jairo Mora Sandoval Award is not only a symbolic Award recognizing the work done by conservation biologists.  It also includes a financial contribution to the organization associated with the recipient. The Award will be presented at every International Marine Conservation Congress. The next one will be in Kuching, Borneo in 2018.

Written by: Kristel Segeren

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