Exequiel Ezcurra is that rare breed of scientist and conservationist who is also a lyrical storyteller. What’s more, the canvas for all his work is the severe, awe-inspiring Sonoran Desert, which straddles the U.S.-Mexico border, from southwestern Arizona through eastern California and down into Mexico on both sides of the Gulf of California.
Born in Argentina, educated in England, Ezcurra has focused on the peculiar oases of the Sonoran Desert, as he led ecology laboratories at the Mexican Museum of Natural History and the National Autonomous University of Mexico and served the government natural resources division. These oases are formed by rocky reefs, sea mounts, mangrove swamps, remote islands, mountain pine forests and upwelling zones that bring life to a desolate land- and seascape. (Mother Jones’ Julia Whitty wrote recently about one of these spots, Rasa Island, a rookery for terns and gulls that Ezcurra’s longtime colleague Enriqueta Velarde has made her life’s work.)
Ezcurra has continued to be outspoken and active in protecting these oases as he has moved north of the border, to the San Diego Museum of Natural History, serving as its provost for five years, and now to the University of California’s MEXUS research program, where he overseas young Mexican academics doing cross-border research.
It was through the San Diego Museum of Natural History that he scripted and narrated a virtual IMAX tour of his beloved Baja California in the celebrated film Ocean Oases. Suffice it to say, Ezcurra has found his home region, the place where he belongs. Last year, Ezcurra suggested that Spencer and Sam Beebe visit Francisco Mayoral and learn how the breeding gray whales of Baja’s Laguna San Ignacio had reconnected with fishermen and paved the way for boosting the local economy with successful local whale watching.
Yesterday, we had the good fortune of hosting Ezcurra here at Ecotrust for a day of conversation. And in the midst of an hour-long video interview, Ezcurra offered a strong — and characteristically poetic — endorsement of organizing societal change in the 21st century around home regions, those places we belong to and care deeply about.