We are celebrating Girls and Women in Science Day by highlighting four incredible women leading conservation and research across the Americas. With passion, dedication, and a deep commitment to the environment, Loretto Arriagada, from Chile, Noemí Moreno, from Colombia, Adriana Moreno from Panama, and Carrie Gray, from Canada, are connecting science and communities to hemispheric conservation. Keep reading to learn more about these remarkable researchers and conservationists!
Loretto Arriagada: Born to Be a Scientist
"As a child, Lore played with a strainer, a jar, and a magnifying glass. She collected insects, stones, and sand, classified, and observed them. She looked up what she found in encyclopedias. That girl wanted to know everything about animals and the ocean. She would spend the entire day like that. She never played with dolls, just left them as ornaments, not even taking them out of their box!"
This is how Loretto Arriagada remembers her childhood and how her early scientific curiosity led her to become a marine biologist, a profession she chose when she was only eight years old. Loretto also earned a postgraduate degree in Environmental Analysis and Management and won a scholarship from the National Commission for Scientific and Technological Research (CONICYT, today ANID) to pursue a Ph.D. in Environmental Sciences.
Today she works as Local Programs Coordinator for Audubon Americas in Chile. Her work focuses on developing and implementing action and management plans for mitigating human-caused threats and natural disturbances on birds and their ecosystems. She is also in charge of the implementation of the Americas Flyway Initiative (AFI) in Chile, which is developing its first pilot in the Rocuant Andalién wetland.
Regarding her scientific work, Loretto says, "Today, more than ever, we need sustainable development, which requires more science and more women scientists which, in turn, represents an opportunity to increase the number of women with equal opportunities."
According to UNESCO data from 2022, women represented only 35 percent of STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics careers) students . Loretto's message to girls and young women who want to pursue these disciplines: "Dare! Women have a lot to contribute to STEM careers, yet there is a troubling gap that reduces the possibilities for innovation to address current and future challenges."
Although her inspiration for falling in love with marine biology at such a young age was the prominent oceanographer Jacques Cousteau, Loretto says that during high school and undergraduate studies she was able to identify "a large number of women scientists throughout history whose work is undoubtedly inspiring, but not as well known." And she reflects: "This also leaves us with a task."
Loretto Arriagada joined Audubon Chile in 2020. Since then, she has been leading the implementation of the Conservation Action Plan for the Rocuant Andalien Wetland-Marsh IBA. She currently supports the coordination of the project "Integration of the conservation of coastal birds in Chile II" and the implementation of the coastal resilience strategy of Audubon Americas in Chile.
Carrie Gray: Environmental Interpreter for the Boreal
Carrie Gray, a Wildlife Management graduate with a Ph.D. in Ecology and Environmental Science and a passion for the New York Times crossword puzzle, uses science in her work to support the creation of Indigenous Protected and Conserved Areas (IPCAs) in the Boreal forests of Canada.
Indigenous peoples in this region are leading ambitious conservation initiatives to protect hundreds of millions of acres of forests, wetlands, and coastal areas that provide breeding habitats for billions of birds.
Her first experience in the field was during a volunteer weekend on Great Gull Island, which sits off the coast of Long Island, New York, is owned by the American Museum of Natural History, and is a major stopover for migratory birds and home to a large nesting colony of terns. “It's small, remote, and pretty lacking in terms of facilities or comfort," says Carrie. "But there I met this incredible force of a woman named Helen Hays, who was almost 70 years old at the time and had been spending six months a year on that island since 1969! She continued to do that work into her 90s and under her stewardship the tern population grew 10 times in number over the decades she dedicated to that project. It's an incredible conservation success story that is largely due to the sheer tenacity of one woman who devoted so much of her life to a higher purpose.” Spending those three days with her undoubtedly changed the way Carrie thought about what was possible for a career.
“My job is to help document the ecological significance of proposed IPCAs by analyzing data, creating maps, and producing written content that highlights the importance of these places for maintaining biodiversity, mitigating climate change, and preserving water resources," she says. "Compiling this information is one of many steps that occur during the process of establishing formal protection of an area. I love providing this service to the First Nations that request Audubon's assistance in this phase.”
Carrie has worked with many women in this field throughout her career, but they were rarely present in high-level positions or invited to join the meetings where big decisions about science and conservation were made. “But I've seen that change in recent years, and it's incredibly gratifying to witness," she says. "Women bring a different perspective to the conversation and, frankly, we need more diverse viewpoints to tackle the countless environmental challenges before us. The conservation field has long been dominated by white men, but we need to empower the voices of women and all historically marginalized peoples if we are to have any success in solving problems that ultimately affect us all."
In 2021, Carrie Gray joined the National Audubon Society’s Boreal Conservation Program, where she provides science support to help document the ecological values of proposed Indigenous-led conservation proposals across Canada’s Boreal Forest and increase knowledge and understanding about the special biodiversity and natural capital features of the Boreal Forest biome.
Noemi Moreno: The Science That Truly Rocks
When comparing Noemí Moreno's photos as a child with those of the woman who coordinates Colombia's National Bird Strategy and travels around the country to talk with communities about the great natural treasure that Colombians have, there are few things they seem to have in common. Maybe just two: A smile and profound curiosity.
When Noemí was a kid, she used to sing and play piano in church. She still sings, but these days she prefers rock and other rhythms and is a true follower of heavy metal. When considering a career path, she contemplated becoming a philosopher, but after further consideration, she finally decided to be a biologist and earn a Master's degree in Conservation and Biodiversity. The twists and turns of life!
Although her work as a woman scientist is not restricted to spending time in a lab taking samples, she applies her knowledge daily, sharing the importance of birds as indicators of ecosystems’ health, human well-being, and the social and economic development of the country.
She has found particular inspiration in the story of Merrit Moore, who is a quantum physicist and ballet dancer, who demonstrates that with patience and perseverance, all dreams can be achieved. "I have also been inspired by women I have met and worked with, who despite the adversities of life motivate you to keep going and to never give up," she says. The truth is that Noemí has gone far, she knows almost every corner of the country, traveling as far as needed to talk about birds.
Although she is now an adult—and mother to her child Helena—Noemí hasn’t forgotten the little girl she was, eager to know the world and write her own rules. "I keep telling my inner child, that studying biology has been the best decision she has ever made," she says. "Science has led me to meet amazing places and people, and birds have allowed me to understand natural relationships better and how we can improve our habits to lead sustainable actions. My message to all girls, starting with my daughter: I invite you to explore, ask questions, and not be afraid to be wrong."
Before joining Audubon in 2018, Noemí Moreno worked for the Asociación Bogotana de Ornitología (ABO), where she coordinated bird monitoring and research and the Christmas Count for the Sabana de Bogotá circle. She is currently a member of ABO’s board of directors. She also served as a consultant for the José Celestino Mutis Botanical Garden in Bogotá, where she led efforts to monitor birds in conjunction with the treatment and maintenance of the city's trees. Moreno holds a B.S. from Universidad INCCA de Colombia and an M.S. in conservation and use of biodiversity from the Pontificia Universidad Javeriana.
Adriana Moreno: A Journey in Marine and Coastal Conservation in Panama
Adriana Moreno, a young ocean enthusiast since childhood, found her calling in marine conservation while exploring the pristine shores of her native Venezuela. There, she grew up surrounded by the beauty of nature and the richness of its biodiversity.
Her conservation journey began with the study of marine biology, igniting in her a deep desire to protect and preserve this natural treasure for future generations.
As the coordinator of the Blue Natural Heritage project in Panama, Adriana finds herself at the heart of the action, ensuring that every piece of the puzzle fits perfectly to achieve the objectives of marine coastal protection. This ensures shelter and food for between one and two million birds, including more than 30 species of coastal migratory birds such as the Wilson's Plover, Western Sandpiper, Semipalmated Plover, Whimbrel, Black Tern, and migratory songbirds like the Prothonotary Warbler and Northern Waterthrush—all of which use the Isthmus of Panama as a refuge on their migratory routes.
What ignites the spark in Adriana's heart is when the team reaches an important milestone or achieves a significant breakthrough that helps to value, protect, or enhance Panama's coastal natural heritage. For her, the real magic lies in sharing the project's discoveries with the public, taking science out of the lab and into the community, and making science accessible and exciting for everyone. "I firmly believe that by making science more accessible, we can inspire more people to get involved in protecting our planet," she says.
Looking back on her journey, Adriana reflects on the lessons learned along the way. Talking to her younger self and young people dreaming of a career in science, she offers invaluable advice: "Take your time, don't stress, and enjoy every moment of the journey. Because on the road to science, every experience is an opportunity to grow and learn."
Adriana proudly tells how her mother and colleagues were inspirational role models for her. "I have always been surrounded by women scientists, my mother being my main inspiration," she says. "[My mother] is a geological engineer with a Master's degree in geology, and all her friends and work colleagues are engineers, and scientists or occupy similar roles. They are intelligent, motivated, and professional women of high quality. I never doubted that I could be anything I wanted to be, and I always had them as references to guide me on my way".
Finally, Adriana shares a powerful message for those who wish to contribute to conservation: "Every small action counts. Whether it's reducing plastic consumption, participating in coastal clean-up activities, or supporting conservation projects, we can all make a difference and leave a positive impact on the protection of our planet."
With her passion, commitment, and determination, Adriana Moreno is making a significant contribution to marine conservation and guiding the way towards a more sustainable and conscientious future for all.
Adriana Moreno joined Audubon in 2022, as the local administrator for the “Valuing, Protecting and Enhancing Coastal Natural Capital in Panama” project. She is a marine biologist with experience as an environmental consultant assisting in the repopulation of bodies of water, a middle and high school biology teacher, and a writer and editor for a renowned website tackling economics, politics, women's rights, and environmental issues in Venezuela.