• Conservationist: Dr. Osvel Hinojosa Huerta
    Osvel Hinojosa Huerta is a wetlands conservationist.

    Photograph by Cheryl Zook

    We really need to shift our perspectives on how we perceive water, how we perceive rivers, understand how its a finite resource, and how we need to give back to nature.
    Osvel Hinojosa Huerta, conservationist

    By Alyssa Samson

    Tuesday, July 10, 2012

    Dr. Osvel Hinojosa Huerta is a conservationist and 2012 Emerging Explorer. He works with environmental coalitions, governments, businesses, and citizen groups to resurrect the delta of the Colorado River. Restoring the delta wetlands, near the Gulf of California in Mexico, will contribute to the area’s biodiversity as well as its economy.


    Despite growing up in the large urban area of San Luis Colorado, Sonora, Mexico, Osvel managed to find an instant connection with the natural world at a young age.

    “There was always this connection with nature,” he says. “But at the same time, I will also have to say that television had a big affect on me. The Jacques Cousteau documentaries and nature documentaries were very influential with connecting with nature.”

    Osvel quickly discovered his passion, to restore the ecosystem of the Colorado River Delta. Millions of American and Mexican consumers depend on the freshwater of the Colorado River for drinking, hygiene, irrigation, and industry. The river’s flow is very controlled, and dams have reduced the extent of the delta wetlands by more than 90 percent in the last century.

    For more than 15 years, Osvel has been working with communities along the river’s drainage basin to restore water back to the delta.

    “It takes time,” says Osvel. “But once you find common ground and make it clear that everyone is working toward a common goal, which is to improve conditions for everyone, then it’s easier to make progress, but it takes time.”

    “The hope that we can restore nature, seeing the results, and enjoying the results. Going back to a place that has been protected or restored and looking at how it thrives again and how the wildlife thrives, it’s amazing.”


    “The main challenge we have is nature has no allocation of water. So, we are changing that and that is the main challenge. We have failed to recognize that nature needs water also, not just using it for our agricultural industry. We need to dedicate water to connect the rivers to the seas.”

    Geography is this great tool to understand the patterns of the world. Not just nature, but humans and their interactions between culture, society, environment, vegetation, and animals. Geography offers all of these tools.”


    “Wetlands provide a lot of services to the world,” Osvel says. “They are great representatives of biodiversity. Many species live in wetlands. In many ways, they are the kidneys of the world. They clean the water and also provide protection against floods, storms, and hurricanes. They are very important.”

    Osvel and his team use different techniques to understand the Colorado River Delta. By mapping wetland areas that have been lost, as well as those that remain, they are able to understand the important connection we have with freshwater.

    “By using techniques like mapping and remote sensing, we started to learn the potentials and it has been very important,” he says. “It also links to the political geography and how different users deal with the water in the basin and understanding the political geography of water, so we can understand where the solutions can come from.”


    Osvel encourages students to learn all they can about water, because many times it is taken for granted.

    “We turn on our tap, but we don’t know where the water comes from and how much it really costs to bring that water to our houses,” he says. “So, learn about your watershed, where the water is produced, where the system goes, what are the important environmental values of your watershed and what are the conservation concerns of that watershed.”


    “Learn. Go out and get engaged with the groups that are out there doing great work. There are many water-keepers around to learn from. There are also many grass roots organizations that deal with the health of rivers and water, especially in the U.S., there are plenty of these organizations. Try to learn from them and support their causes,” he says.  

  • Term Part of Speech Definition Encyclopedic Entry
    allocate Verb

    to assign or set aside part of a whole for a specific purpose.

    biodiversity Noun

    all the different kinds of living organisms within a given area.

    Encyclopedic Entry: biodiversity
    century Noun

    100 years.

    conservationist Noun

    person who works to preserve natural habitats.

    culture Noun

    learned behavior of people, including their languages, belief systems, social structures, institutions, and material goods.

    dam Noun

    structure built across a river or other waterway to control the flow of water.

    delta Noun

    the flat, low-lying plain that sometimes forms at the mouth of a river from deposits of sediments.

    Encyclopedic Entry: delta
    drainage basin Noun

    an entire river system or an area drained by a river and its tributaries. Also called a watershed.

    economy Noun

    system of production, distribution, and consumption of goods and services.

    ecosystem Noun

    community and interactions of living and nonliving things in an area.

    Encyclopedic Entry: ecosystem
    Emerging Explorer Noun

    an adventurer, scientist, innovator, or storyteller recognized by National Geographic for their visionary work while still early in their careers.

    environment Noun

    conditions that surround and influence an organism or community.

    environmental coalition Noun

    group of people or organizations who are united in defense of the environment or an environmental issue.

    flood Noun

    overflow of a body of water onto land.

    Encyclopedic Entry: flood
    geography Noun

    study of places and the relationships between people and their environments.

    Encyclopedic Entry: geography
    government Noun

    system or order of a nation, state, or other political unit.

    grass roots Adjective

    made up of people who are not socially or economically elite and do not represent the government.

    hurricane Noun

    tropical storm with wind speeds of at least 119 kilometers (74 miles) per hour. Hurricanes are the same thing as typhoons, but usually located in the Atlantic Ocean region.

    hygiene Noun

    science and methods of keeping clean and healthy.

    industry Noun

    activity that produces goods and services.

    irrigation Noun

    watering land, usually for agriculture, by artificial means.

    Encyclopedic Entry: irrigation
    Jacques Cousteau Noun

    (1910-1997) French aquatic explorer and scientist.

    kidney Noun

    organ that removes the waste products from blood and helps regulate general health.

    mapping Noun

    making and using maps.

    political geography Noun

    study of the spatial relationships that influence government or social policies.

    remote sensing Noun

    methods of information-gathering about the Earth's surface from a distance.

    resurrect Verb

    to bring back to life.

    storm Noun

    severe weather indicating a disturbed state of the atmosphere resulting from uplifted air.

    urban area Noun

    developed, densely populated area where most inhabitants have nonagricultural jobs.

    Encyclopedic Entry: urban area
    vegetation Noun

    all the plant life of a specific place.

    watershed Noun

    entire river system or an area drained by a river and its tributaries.

    Encyclopedic Entry: watershed
    wetland Noun

    area of land covered by shallow water or saturated by water.

    Encyclopedic Entry: wetland
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