Heliodoro Sanchez 2007
Selected by an independent international jury, Colombian Dr. Heliodoro Sanchez received the first ever Kenton R. Miller Prize for Innovation on National Park Sustainability. On receiving his certificate and a check for US$5,000, Sanchez stated that “critical areas, like mangrove forests, must be protected to maintain their ecological functions and serve the communities that depend upon them for their livelihoods.”
Sanchez’s innovations have included new methods for re-establishing mangrove ecosystems along his country’s Northern Coast, following earlier destructive human practices. The impacts of his work have lead to expanded protection of these rapidly disappearing ecosystems and the creation of new opportunities for local communities to utilize these resources on a sustainable basis. Two new national parks were established that feature extensive mangrove forest ecosystems: Old Providence and McBeans Lagoons National Park, and the El Corchal “Mono Hernandez” Wildlife Sanctuary – the first International Wetland Site in Colombia. In the longer term, his work holds promise to those communities living along the Caribbean coast. In many areas mangrove forests have been destroyed in favor of short-term income from shrimp production, leaving communities vulnerable to the winds and storm surges caused by hurricanes.
He is recognized as one of the principal pioneers that initiated the establishment and planning of National Parks in Colombia. During his 9 years as Director of National Parks, he coordinated the establishment of the National System of Protected Areas. Sanchez continues as professor of forestry at the District University of Bogota where he has served for 22 years.
The award was presented during the closing celebration of the Second Latin American Congress on National Parks and other Protected areas (an every ten-year event), held in Bariloche, Argentina where 2,200 park and protected area scientists, community leaders, and managers from 34 countries engaged in debate on issues facing conservation policy and practice throughout the region.
On presenting the award to Sanchez, Dr. Kenton Miller, namesake of the award, and on behalf of the Commission and its Chair, Mr. Nik Lopoukhine, emphasized the importance of recognizing and promoting “innovation.” He stated that: “The challenges that face the conservation and sustainable use of our park values, demand that we release the creative energies of all those engaged in park and protected area management, to adopt new policies and practices that will enable us to adapt to a rapidly changing world.”