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Logo: International Women's Day

International Womenʼs Day is an opportunity to celebrate the social, professional, and cultural achievements of women all over the world. The Galapagos Initiative is home to incredible female leaders and scientists at UNC, USFQ, and at the Galapagos Science Center. For International Womenʼs Day this year, we will showcase seven of these accomplished women throughout the week.

Photo: A woman standing in front of a class points to a slide that reads 'Photo-identification.'
Photo identification of sea turtles through citizen science with Daniela Alarcon.

Today we sit down with Daniela Alarcón, Special Education Project Coordinator at the Galapagos Science Center.

What inspired you to start this career and what are you looking forward to?

After finishing high school, I came to the Galapagos for a month and had the chance to learn scuba diving at the islands. That experience really inspired the path that I took in my career. While at USFQ studying Marine Ecology, I was able to conduct research on a remote part of the Galapagos in conjunction with the Galapagos National Park. Through these different experiences on the islands, I have been able to discover my country more and fall in love with nature. Because of this, I feel compelled to help create awareness of the importance of protecting what we have.

Last year, everything slowed down due to the pandemic, so I thought it was a good time to start a PhD program! I had already received my Masterʼs degree in Protected Area Management from James Cook University in Australia for my work studying sea turtles in the Galapagos. Because of this great experience, I applied to two Australian universities and was accepted to both. I also found out I have received a scholarship that will make it possible to start the program this year!

My PhD work will be about cetaceans and specifically blue whales and orcas in the Galapagos. I started to work with these animals at the beginning of my career and I am proud to continue this valuable research.

What does your role at the Galapagos Science Center entail?

Because I started as a volunteer for conservation projects many years ago, I bring a unique perspective to my position. I work mainly in marine studies, including student participation in hands-on activities. We work with students internationally, from USFQ, and locally to develop research skills and deductive thinking, encouraging them to reconsider the way they use resources and how we all can improve our contribution to the planet.

I also work with other researchers that assemble long term data, including different methodologies to involve students and citizen science initiatives to collect and spread important information in terms of conservation and sustainability.

I feel most proud when I am able to share my work – for example, taking people to the beach and showing them how marine currents work and connect various ecosystems. When this expands their knowledge and you feel you are part of a change that helps conserve these ecosystems it is very rewarding.

How have other women supported your journey?

I have amazing women supporting my journey every day. This starts with the women in my family and my community here in San Cristobal, including my coworkers and friends. It has been great to find a tribe that functions as an extended family.

Photo: A young man, young woman, and little girl squat in the sand as the sun sets over the ocean behind them.
Daniela and her family enjoying the beach by their home in Galapagos.

Not only does this wonderful group of women support me in my academic and work achievements, but they have helped me raise my daughter. They give my partner and I unwavering support, an unimaginable amount of love, and no judgment. It has been challenging to raise a child far from family while working at the GSC and having house duties as well. Often, my partner is far from home due to work and studies. However, I have never felt alone or lost in this path, and I have been able to continue to achieve many more goals thanks to the support of this lovely community.

In the face of adversity, do you have an inner mantra that allows you to forge ahead?

When I was little, my dad taught me that in adversity or when facing problems, you need to focus on the good things and try to see the end of the tunnel. It is not worth it to focus on the problems or bad things. Instead, focus on the next step and try to see the bright side of things.

What does International Womenʼs Day mean to you?

The history of International Womenʼs Day involves a lot of suffering and pain from a lot of people that have been fighting to get women in a better position. What we have achieved is incredible, but we still have a long journey ahead.

It has been a fight for more than a century and a half with many rewarding moments, but there will be more. The good part of the celebration is that we can be aware and share with others about the history of events and how important it is to keep pushing and insisting things get done.

Written collaboratively by Kelly Weaver, Director of External Affairs & Communications, Center for Galapagos Studies; and Molly Herring ’23, UNC Global Studies and Biology.

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