These 3 Scientists Are Saving Puerto Rico’s Most Endangered Species


NBC News reports on Puerto Rican scientists Carlos Diez, Jafet Velez-Valentin, and Tony Mignucci, who were featured in the Nature episode called “Viva Puerto Rico” (narrated by Jimmy Smits) which aired on television last night but will stream all month.

Somewhere in the rainforest there is a Puerto Rican Amazon Parrot named Heineken. And the story of how the gorgeous tropical bird got the name of a Dutch beer brand is telling of the passion, adversity, and length that island-based conservationists face to save the species on the verge of extinction. [. . .]

“When we first began the work, there were 13 Puerto Rican Amazon Parrots,” explained aviary biologist Jafet Vélez-Valentín. “We didn’t have a way to tag the birds we were studying and encouraging to breed. One of the scientists suggested we use polished beer caps and before we knew it, we had parrots named Corona, Corona Light, Medalla, Coors Light, even a Peruvian beer, Cusqueña. In fact, Heineken fell in love with Cusqueña.” This season alone, Veléz-Valentín says there are 130 parrots being prepared to be released. “When I think of the numbers of parrots we are releasing into the wild, it makes me so proud to be part of this work,” he says. “The parrot’s comeback represents the capacity for Puerto Ricans to move forward in the face of adversity.” Vélez-Valentín’s compelling conservation story is one of three remarkable efforts featured in this Nature episode.


Turtles have been a passion for marine biologist Carlos Diez since he was a young boy. He remembers the first time he saw a leatherback while volunteering on Isla Mona, a tiny island in the archipelago of Puerto Rico. “It was massive, like a Volkswagen,” explained the world-renowned turtle conservationist. “It hauled its huge body to the beach, made a deep hole and laid nearly a hundred eggs, then it went back to the ocean.” The moment left an unforgettable mark on Diez, who was then 14.

According to Diez, turtles have been part of myth and lore all over the world. They have been around since the dinosaur age and were once considered sea monsters. And like the Puerto Rican Amazon Parrots, sea turtles once numbered in the millions in Puerto Rican waters before Europeans arrived to the island. But with the loss of habitat due to land development, deforestation, hotel and marina development, light pollution, industrial fishing and poaching for their carcasses, the beloved ocean creatures face extinction.

“Leatherbacks have an incredible journey trekking more miles than any other creature and yet never forget the beach there were born in,” he says. “These turtles also have the most sophisticated internal GPS of any creature.” Diez began working with conservation efforts two decades ago and his studies helped ban fishing of Hawksbill Turtles, known on the island as carey, a delicacy to islanders. [. . .]


The manatee, another species on the extinct list, also received attention in the film. According Dr. Antonio “Tony” Mignucci, there are only 700 manatees left in Puerto Rican waters. In the film, Mignucci and his team are seen rehabbing a 600-pound manatee to perfect health. On the day of its release, school children, a gaggle of community members, scientists, and even the National Guard escorted the beloved marine mammal to cheers and tears. [. . .]

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3 thoughts on “These 3 Scientists Are Saving Puerto Rico’s Most Endangered Species

    1. The three gentlemen in these articles are my heroes. When I read of the plight of the indigenous animals of the island it made my heart break. I used to raise cockatiels and have a deep love for birds, Turtles are my favorite animal of all. And manatees have become my new friends. You gentlemen should be very proud of the work you have done. I know I am proud of them. I have recently bought a home in Ceiba, Puerto Rico and would love to visit these sites where the breeding and rehabilitation happens and would love to volunteer to help.

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