- Francisco Nuñez
With each step, Francisco’s tiny shoe would fit entirely within his mother’s footprint.
Climbing up the narrow winding trail in what was to become the Armando Bermúdez National Park, he was only seven or eight years old the first time his mother allowed him to tag along on one of her field trips. Little did he know – this was the beginning of a path that he would follow for the rest of his life.
Ana Mercedes Henriquez,* Francisco’s mother, was always passionate about nature. By the time Francisco was in his teens, his mother had already helped start an environmental movement in the Dominican Republic and was widely recognized as the “mother of conservation” in the island nation.
From an early age, Francisco knew that, like his mother, he wanted to work in conservation.
“My mother has been such an inspiration to me all my life,” says Francisco. “She started one of the first conservation groups at the Universidad Autonoma de Santo Domingo and, later, another one at the Instituto Tecnologico de Santo Domingo, where she taught biology, botany and environmental sciences for several decades. She also led an interactive radio program on ecology, education and environment, discussing key national and global biodiversity conservation issues. She’s always been very active – and very dedicated to her work.”
In March of 2001, Ana Mercedes Henriquez was awarded the Medal of Merit to Outstanding Women by the Dominican Government for her dedication to education – one of 14 awards she has received throughout her lifetime for her conservation work in the Dominican Republic.
It appears that Francisco has inherited his mother’s drive and initiative.
As a young adult, he collected degrees in biology, ecology and animal behavior and evolution, and spent the next 25 years following in the family tradition of caring for the Earth.
Since 2003, he has worked as the Conservation Science Director for the Conservancy's Central Caribbean Program. He oversees conservation activities – like freshwater assessments, invasive species research and sustainable fire management – not only in the Dominican Republic, but also in Haiti, Puerto Rico and Cuba.
Francisco met his wife Celeste in 1987, during a field trip to the highlands in the Dominican Republic, while they were both pursuing a master’s degree in ecology.
Like Francisco, Celeste had also grown up with a love for nature. Her father, Pedro Mir, was designated National Poet by the Dominican National Congress, and he wrote some of the most famous poems describing the natural beauty of the island (see below).
“Celeste and I have worked together on many research projects since then,” Francisco says. “We’ve become a team, and we see caring for biodiversity and a healthy ecosystem as a family commitment and part of our lives.”
It is important to Francisco and Celeste to instill a strong conservation ethic in their two daughters as well.
“Our girls grew up going on field trips with us from the time they were babies,” says Francisco. “We have shared with them our love for Dominican landscapes and our sense of commitment to conservation of our island home.”
Their oldest daughter, Gabriela, remembers the family’s outdoor adventures all too well. A self-proclaimed city girl, she can happily do without traipsing through dense forests or muddy wetlands.
But just because she doesn’t like fieldwork doesn’t mean she’s not interested in conservation.
On the contrary, Gabriela says that conservation feels like a natural path for her. She has a passion for animals, and after witnessing the effects of invasive species on habitats in both the Dominican Republic and the Great Lakes, she wants to do everything she can to protect important ecosystems for native species.
As a junior at Worcester Polytechnic Institute, she has a full course load studying environmental studies and biology, and after graduation next year, she plans to pursue a master’s degree before returning to work on environmental policy in the Dominican Republic.
“There are so many ways to become involved in conservation,” Gabriela says. “I think our generation is even more interested conservation and more informed about environmental issues than past generations. We understand that our actions have impacts – not only on an environmental level, but also on economic and social levels. I honestly think that humanity is on the right path.”
She may not be outdoorsy, but a love of nature – and a passion for conserving it – definitely runs in her family.
* We are sad to learn of the recent passing of Ana Mercedes Henriquez. Throughout her professional life she was an inspiration to the many who followed her into the field of conservation and environmental protection. She will be missed. Our condolences to Francisco and his family.
There is a country in the world
situated right in the sun’s path.
With three million
sum of life
and among all
four cardinal cordilleras
and an immense bay and another immense bay,
three peninsulas with adjacent inlands
and a wonder of vertical rivers
and land under trees and land
beneath the rivers and at the edge of the forest
and at the foot of the hill and beyond the horizon
and land from the cock’s crow
and land beneath galloping horses
and land over the day, under the map, around
and underneath all the footprints and in the midst of love…
- Pedro Mir, 1949