Jonathan Triminio grew up witnessing the effects of decades of pollution on Belize’s New River, now he is a biologist studying local crocodiles to try to trace both the source and impact of that pollution.
Triminio, a research Biologist at the Crocodile Research Coalition, a Non-profit Organization based in Belize and the Principal Investigator of the ‘Save the New River’ project says that by analyzing samples taken from local Morelet’s crocodile, researchers hope to be able to identify possible sources of pollution in the slow-moving river bordered by sugar cane fields.
“Growing up in Orange Walk Town, one could rarely indulge in the goods and services of the New River due to decades of pollution,” he says, “Being involved with the research of the CRC, I was able to observe the threats habitats in Belize are facing, including that of the New River, which led us to start this case study.”
As part of a six-month data collection, Triminio and colleagues found, via samples from 33 individual crocodiles, that the Morelet’s crocodile populaton is still stable; nevertheless, some adult and subadult individuals are still showing signs of exposure to pollutants as they commonly display poor skin conditions.
“I started this project in 2019, but one of my biggest challenges was the inability to conduct fieldwork due to the COVID-19 pandemic and securing the funds to carry out the project was also a challenge, but I managed to obtain two years of funding through the Marine Conservation Action Fund, which came in as an opportunity for the progress of this study,” he says.
Dr. Marisa Tellez, Executive Director of the Crocodile Research Coalition, says that the biggest challenge at the moment is breaking down over a century of misguided information and false stereotypes about Belize’s crocodiles while simultaneously fighting against the sensationalism of TV shows and media about crocodiles.
“If we want to ensure the long-term success of any conservation program, not only do the local communities need to be educated about the Do’s and Don’ts living alongside wildlife, but they also need to know the facts, along with being involved to further pride and stewardship of one’s natural world,” she says.
Childhood in Belize’s Nature
Triminio is originally from Orange Walk Town, an inland town of about 13,000 inhabitants in Belize’s north and says he grew up exploring the natural world around him.
“From fishing in the Caribbean to hiking the jungles of Belize, I knew which career path I’d take from an early age,” Triminio says, adding that while pursuing his undergraduate degree in 2018, he began focusing on wildlife conservation and management.
He eventually had the opportunity to do an internship program with the Crocodile Research Coalition, which further cultivated his passion for wildlife.
Triminio says the Global South is home to the world’s most diverse ecosystems and dynamic landscapes that are often the subject of cutting-edge research.
“The scientific information that can originate from these regions may have the potential to solve global issues such as pandemics and climate change,” he says, adding that Global South scientists often lack research opportunities or are left in the shadows of scientists from the Global North.
“I believe it should be an international effort to find solutions to global challenges, not just scientists from the global south or global north per se, and inclusivity must be a principal consideration,” he says.
Triminio says that this would not only be help find solutions to global problems, furthering scientific and technological discoveries worldwide, it would also diminish “scientific imperialism”, a process where researchers (usually from the Global North) extract papers and scientific knowledge from the Global South without returning the benefits of the research to those areas or communities.
Another Latin American researcher working on conservation is Diana Zendejo.
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Zendejo had spoken with crocodile researchers about a project in the Selva Lacandona at Chiapas, Mexico, before pivoting to researching bears.