María Antonia Izurieta, Sea Turtle Biologist & Guest Educator, Lhaviyani Atoll

Maria Antonia Izurieta, portrait. Image.
María Antonia Izurieta
Sea Turtle Biologist, Lhaviyani Atoll

Growing up in Ecuador, a mega diverse country, and having adventurous parents made María a nature lover ever since she can remember.

Traveling across her country either by hiking the Andes Mountains, discovering the wonders of the Amazon rain forest, or swimming on the Pacific Ocean coastline, made her very passionate about conservation and biology.

Before graduating from high school, María volunteered in a herpetology foundation in Ecuador, where she was part of a project to save an endemic frog. This project was later presented in UN Habitat III. After completing high school, María volunteered in a national park in Honduras for six months. She started diving during this time and got her Open Water certification in Utila.

When she returned to Ecuador, she got an internship in the biology center at Mashpi Lodge, one of National Geographic Unique Lodges. Here, she was able to learn a lot many things
about ecotourism.

After her gap year it was clear to her that she wanted to pursue a career to protect and study nature. In 2018 she enrolled in Universidad San Francisco de Quito to study biology. For one year she volunteered at the zoology museum in her university.

In the summer of 2021, María completed an internship with Conservation International in the Galapagos Islands. Since then, she has been going back and forth to the Galapagos Islands for several research projects with marine mega fauna. She did her thesis project there too, analyzing the juvenile blacktip shark population in a nursery ground with Dr. Alex Hearn. María also helped Dr. Hal Whitehead and her Ph.D. student look for sperm whales on a research sailboat in the Galapagos. On her last trip to the islands, she helped Dr. Hearn as his research assistant on
several projects related with whale sharks, hammerheads and blacktip sharks. During this time she also served as his teaching assistant for Techniques of Marine Research 2 in the Galapagos campus.

María, a rescue diver by profession, is very excited to move to the other side of the world to help conserve the beautiful marine ecosystems in the Maldives. Although she has never worked with sea turtles before, she is very eager to learn!

María joined the Olive Ridley Project in July 2023 as the Sea Turtle Biologist & Guest Educator based at Lhaviyani Atoll. Her role involves researching the foraging and nesting ecology of sea turtles in the area, with a focus on photo identification of individuals, and carrying out educational outreach initiatives with guests and the local community.