The Fins United Initiative: Thank you for being here with us Ximena! It's a pleasure to talk with you not only for our "Behind the Fins" series but in Spanish, as well, on the ConCiencia Azul podcast (find her episode here on Spotify and here on Apple Podcasts later this month). Tell us, were you always interested in the marine sciences?
Ximena Soberanis Echevería: Yes but I wasn't aware of it. Since I was a small girl, I used to play with a bucket filled with water and I used to get my head inside of it and open my eyes and of course it was blurry and my eyes hurt a bit ... however I didn't care and I imagined that I was seeing whales and fish and sharks of different sizes and colors and that I was a great swimmer and could hold my breath longer than anyone else...it was my favorite game.
TFUI: Nowadays, what is your day-to-day schedule like?
XSE: It's a bit tiring actually. Monday - Friday: I wake up at 5:00, leave my house at 6:00 in order to get to university before 7:00, my first class is Oceanography, then Limnology, and then Marine Biology. I leave around 14:00-15:00 and go to work from 17:00 - 20:30, I arrive to my house at 21:00, eat dinner with mom and dad, do homework and go to sleep around 23:30. Sometimes I exercise early in the morning, I love workouts on my stationary bicycle, if I can't do it in the morning, I'd try to do it once I get to my house at night. On Saturdays I have to work from 8:00-17:00 and once I get back home, I do homework and work on my investigation and try to play with my dog (Cyra). On Sunday, I eat breakfast with my mom, go to Sipacate Escuintla where I am doing my research at and come back home.
TFU: Phew! Busy indeed. Can you tell us a little bit about the research you do?
XSE: My research is based on the ray genre Hypanus, I want to know their condition factor, gonadosomatic index, and hepatosomatic index to evaluate their maturity and include if the males are ready for reproduction or not, if females are pregnant or not pregnant or sexually mature or inmature.
TFUI: And why is your research important?
XSE: There are many reasons why it is important, but one of them is because they are in the IUCN red list, I want to be able to educate the artisanal fishermen and let them know when to be able to let them go or catch them for their meat. I want to be able to evaluate the population and create awareness and if possible, conserve endangered species, and not just focus on this genre, but focus on chondrichthyans and try to keep the population healthy, try to keep the ocean healthy, establish fish activity periods and encourage people to respect marine life and ... so many many things.
TFUI: We like that, though! It means you're passionate. How do you find the state of Chondrichthyan conservation in the Guatemala region?
XSE: There is no conservation for them in my country unfortunately, even though there are some rules to follow regarding marine fauna, they aren't, no one abides them.
TFUI: Ouch! No point in having rules if you aren't enforcing them, right? So then lets look at the positive- what is the most rewarding thing about studying Chondrichthyans in this region?
XSE: The knowledge, I didn't know anything about Chondrichthyans here in my country, never had the opportunity of touching even hugging them and spending time with specimens (I understand that touching them once they've been caught is not the expectation however, it's what I've experienced in order to get near them and be able to study them further). Getting to know their organs, looking at their scales in the microscope, classifying them, enter the new specimens to the biological collection, look and compare the differences between species, seeing new offspring...I have had many many rewarding experiences...
TFUI: That is so great to hear! Do you think people in your area have a good relationship with the ocean environment?
XSE: NO, they do not.
TFUI: What about with sharks?
XSE: There is no data regarding shark incidents here, but once you talk to someone about sharks, it's scary how they react to a shark attack, a shark approach, they rather have something to kill them and catch them instead of getting to know their habits and behavior, their enormous role with other species and the ocean itself...
TFUI: It seems like we need more outreach and education in this area, then. Speaking of education - what is the most mind-blowing Chondrichthyans fact you know?
XSE: The fact that they can recognize themselves in the mirror, that blew me, totally.
TFUI: That is very cool! What advice do you have for anyone in Guatemala wanting to follow your foot-steps?
XSE: I encourage you to follow your heart and dreams. You are not alone, there are many of us who really want to work with marine fauna, specially Chondrichthyans, who are willing to achieve goals and protect the animals, even though there's no "marine biology" career here in Guatemala, you can apply for a scholarship, start reading and asking for information, and whatever you do, don't be selfish and share your knowledge, do not give up!
TFUI: You heard it here first, amigxs! Follow your heart and dreams. So what’s next for you?
XSE: Once I'm done with my research, I will continue to do more, I'd like to get funds from an organization or work for one to be able to save what we have and protect it. I want to keep on investigating, I want to teach people, teach fishermen, I want to keep on learning, studying, working, achieve a master's degree, a PhD, I want to save the ocean's flora and fauna and I'm sure if I get the opportunity with someone or an organization or association, I will not stop.
THE FINS UNITED INITIATIVE WOULD LIKE TO THANK ximera FOR HER TIME AND
TFUI Founder Melissa C. Marquez is author of all animal bios and "Behind the Fins" segments.
SEE MELISSA'S TEDx TALK HERE:
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