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Conservationist Erika Lopez Named July Sea Hero

Lopez is honored for her work addressing illegal fishing
By Tabitha Lipkin | Published On July 2, 2024
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Conservationist Erika Lopez Named July Sea Hero

Portrait of Erika Lopez

Annie Crawley

Year Dive Certified: 1991

Dive Certification Level: Master Scuba Diver Trainer

Expertise: Marine protected area science and security

Instagram: @biodiversityconservationco


Erika Lopez is the executive director of the Biodiversity Conservation Colombia Foundation, an environmental non-profit dedicated to protecting pristine natural areas. Recognized by the Women Divers Hall of Fame, she is dedicated to conserving the biodiversity of the Malpelo Fauna and Flora Sanctuary off Colombia. For her work with the Colombian government to create a management plan to address illegal fishing and for championing the sanctuary, Erika Lopez is our July Sea Hero.

Q: What is the Malpelo Fauna and Flora Sanctuary and how are you involved?

A: Malpelo’s UNESCO World Heritage status speaks volumes about its ecological importance. It is a sanctuary for marine life; a refuge where endangered species find solace amid the swirling currents. This area is known for migratory sharks in the Eastern Tropical Pacific Marine Corridor, which connects Malpelo Island to the Galapagos (Ecuador), Cocos (Costa Rica) and Coiba (Panama) islands.

Our primary objective is to halt illegal fishing activities within the marine protected area. Often, illegal vessels flee upon sighting us, and although we manage to interrupt their activities temporarily, they often relocate to other areas like sea mountains within the vicinity to continue fishing unabated.

For me, Malpelo represents hope. It serves as a reminder of our responsibility to protect and preserve our natural heritage for future generations.

Related Reading: Coral Scientist Wilfredo “Al” Licuanan Named June Sea Hero

Erika Lopez and her crew, including a national parks ranger, stand watch on a routine surveillance mission around Malpelo’s main island off Colombia.

Annie Crawley

Q: What’s been your most gratifying moment?

A: The most gratifying aspect of my work occurred between the end of 2023 and the beginning of 2024 when sightings of illegal fishermen in the sanctuary plummeted to zero. Our dedicated efforts and continuous presence have yielded remarkable results.

Q: You’ve done over 10,000 dives. Tell me about one of your favorites.

A: I vividly recall one unforgettable moment that truly encapsulated the essence of Malpelo. It was a crisp morning dive in the southern waters of Malpelo, where we descended using a rope toward a majestic pinnacle. As we made our descent, accompanied by a group of curious tourists from Germany, we were greeted by an awe-inspiring sight: thousands of silky sharks swirling around us like ethereal clouds. Beneath us, the ocean floor teemed with hundreds of majestic hammerhead sharks, while three graceful whale sharks emerged from the depths.

Related Reading: Jessica Pate Awarded May Sea Hero for Manta Ray Conservation

Q: What wisdom would you like to share about ocean conservation and your personal projects within conservation?

A: The urgency of taking action, starting today, to give back to our planet rather than merely taking from it. It’s a call to reevaluate our relationship with the Earth, to recognize that we cannot afford to delay any longer. We must extend our respect to all forms of life and abandon the notion that we exist separately from nature; for in truth, we are deeply interconnected with it. It’s time to embrace our role as stewards of the Earth and act with the understanding that our future depends on the well-being of our planet.