Fernando Trujillo

Fernando Trujillo – Strengthening Local and Regional Conservation Initiatives for the Protection of Rivers & Dolphins in South America


2007 Whitley gold winner, Fernando Trujillo promotes trans-boundary conservation of freshwater habitats and their wildlife using river dolphins as a flagship in the Amazon and Orinoco basins, covering their entire global range across Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Venezuela.

South America’s three species of river dolphin face increasing pressure as a result of competition with the fishing industry and are even killed for bait. Pollution and habitat loss from mining and the development of hydro-electrical dams is also a growing threat.

“Our project will integrate scientific research with grassroots and political action to conserve all of South America’s river dolphins. Partnership Funding by Fondation Segré will allow us to work effectively and with high impact locally and nationally, and also across borders.”  Fernando Trujillo

Fernando has made the following progress towards his goals during year two of the project:

Goal 1: Evaluate, monitor and communicate the status of river dolphins in South America.

  • Four expeditions have been conducted to estimate abundance of river dolphins in the River Tapajos (Brazil), Orinoco (Venezuela), Amazon (Peru/Colombia) and Caqueta (Colombia).
  • A scientific paper was published reporting a 75% probability that in the Colombian Amazon, pink dolphin numbers had declined. The paper was selected by the well-known journal ‘Science’ as an example of an effective approach to evaluate population trends for species where different methods have been used to collect population data.
  • 36 scientists from Brazil, Peru, Colombia and Venezuela have been trained in dolphin surveys, building in-country capacity for freshwater conservation.
  • A river dolphin workshop was held at the 10th Biennial Meeting of the South American Aquatic Mammal Society in Cartagena city with 28 presentations and 94 attendees.
  • A database that maps the locations of active and proposed dams created during Year 1 of the project, is being used to indicate where damming projects and dolphin habitat overlap in order to pin-point where development will have the largest impact on cetaceans.
  • Protocols for inclusion of river dolphin abundance estimation in Environment Impact Assessments (EIAs) have been developed in collaboration with WWF and are being translated into Portuguese. This will ensure dolphins are considered when dams are being planned and steps are taken to mitigate their impact, or prevent harmful projects from going ahead in key habitat.
  • Fishery agreements in the Tarapoto lakes systems (Colombia) are benefitting ~2,000 indigenous people from 23 communities who are already seeing positive results, with fish populations showing signs of increasing.
  • After 10 years, the project’s existing floating house was renewed. Situated at the mouth of the lakes, the floating house is used by locals to conduct monitoring and enforce the fishing agreements to enable sustainable management of these lakes and their resources.
  • The initial draft of the Action Plan for river dolphins and manatees is expected to be approved imminently by the Government of Peru.

Goal 2: Provide Technical capacity building to strengthen river dolphin conservation.

  • 106 researchers have been trained in the analysis of field data during three workshops held in Venezuela (26), Peru (20) and Colombia (60).
  • More than 500 researchers are now using the South American River Dolphin Protected Area Network (SARDPAN) online forum designed to enable resource sharing, publication of research and aid government decisions on freshwater conservation.

Goal 3: Grassroots capacity building to strengthen river dolphin conservation.

  • A total of 253 people have been trained in good dolphin watching practices in Colombia, Peru, Ecuador, and Bolivia to promote local initiatives that encourage the conservation of dolphins or their habitat; 103 people in Colombia and Peru received training in sustainable fishing practices; and 65 artisans were trained in handicraft production to boost incomes for people living in dolphin habitat in Colombia and Peru.
  • Staff exchange trips between Omacha and other South American NGOs including WFN alumni Joanna Alfaro-Shigueto identified opportune regions in which to promote good dolphin watching practices, develop fishing agreements and initiate artisan programmes expanding the project.
  • Following scientific, social and political support, the Lakes of Tarapoto are expected to be declared a Ramsar site, giving this 90,000ha wetland which incorporates dolphin feeding and nursery grounds, international recognition of its importance.
  • Two interpretation centres have been built in Peru and Colombia to rehabilitate and house injured freshwater wildlife and educate the public about these species.
  • 20,000 people have been reached by a mobile exhibition providing educational materials about dolphins in Colombia.
  • A film about Fernando and his work called ‘Omacha Man’ will be presented at the 2017 Sundance Festival. The film exposes illegal gold mining in the Amazon basin and its harmful effects on wetland ecosystems and indigenous communities suffering mercury poisoning. Watch the teaser trailer. Out soon!

Goal 4: Find alternatives with the goal of banning the ‘mota’ catfish fishery.

  • Research shows mercury levels in mota fish exceed the limit set by the World Health Organization, making them unsafe for human consumption. As a result of an international campaign, Brazil banned trade in mota fish until 2020.
  • The Government of Colombia have made recommendations that people avoid consumption of mota fish and large supermarkets have stopped selling it which will not only benefit human health, but reduce the killing of river dolphins to be used as bait in the mota industry.
  • 260 mota fish samples were analysed. Results found 95% of samples contained significant levels of mercury.
  • Following the ban, Brazil’s traders are encouraging hunting of dolphins in Peru, making work to address this in these countries pertinent.