Colombia’s Fernando Trujillo named Nat Geo’s 2024 Explorer of the Year

Fernando Trujillo, and his expedition team, diligently and carefully transport a river dolphin for tagging. Photo: Estefanía Rodríguez/Nat Geo

In honor of his immense dedication to working with local communities in South America to co-create conservation solutions that protect endangered aquatic wildlife and ecosystems, the National Geographic Society announced that Fernando Trujillo is the 2024 recipient of the Rolex National Geographic Explorer of the Year Award.

The award given from Washington D.C., will be presented at the National Geographic Society’s annual Explorers Festival, and hosted in collaboration with Rolex, a leading corporate partner of the Society.

“Fernando is a solutions-driven changemaker who’s spent more than 30 years illuminating critical issues that impact the welfare of our planet,” said Jill Tiefenthaler, CEO of the National Geographic Society. “His work in South America enhances protections for endangered wildlife and supports sustainable practices for the betterment of local communities. The Society is extraordinarily proud to name Fernando the 2024 Rolex National Geographic Explorer of the Year as a testament to the positive, profound difference he continues to make for our planet and those who call it home,” she said.

Trujillo has had a long history with the Society, receiving his first grant in 2008 to study the abundance of the Amazonian river dolphins in Brazil and Peru. He is currently a lead Explorer on the National Geographic and Rolex Perpetual Planet Amazon Expedition, a comprehensive, multi-year, scientific and storytelling exploration of the Amazon River basin from the Andes to the Atlantic. He serves as a mentor to National Geographic Young Explorers and has hosted the Society’s live streamed Spanish language Explorer Classroom sessions.

The biologist has spent decades studying aquatic wildlife with special attention to the Amazonian pink river dolphin in South America. His deep connection with the species earned him the nickname “omacha.” In Tikuna Indigenous culture, omacha can transform into a man to protect the other dolphins from harm.

“Trujillo embodies this spirit in his tireless efforts to build a deeper understanding, and appreciation for river dolphins among the local community,” highlighted the National Geographic Society. “He works with community leaders, veterinarians and local scientists to track the dolphins’ migratory patterns and conduct health assessments of this iconic species as a barometer for river health,” noted the prestigious conservation entity.

“As Amazonia experiences some of the most extreme climate phenomena in decades, it is critical to shine a spotlight on this issue, conduct deeper research and generate solutions to protect this magnificent region,” believes Trujillo. “Through this award, the Society is providing a megaphone for me to reach a global audience and encourage them to learn more and to care about the changes impacting our planet,” he said.

A river dolphin breaches through the Amazon waters. Photo: Fernando Trujillo/Omacha/National Geographic.

Over his career, Trujillo has worked with local and national governments to increase fishery agreements, enhance protection of wetlands, and led tree planting initiatives to revitalize ecosystems deeply impacted by climate and environmental change.

The environmental crusader has facilitated groundbreaking regional and international collaborations to protect dolphins and their rivers, including a river dolphin Conservation Management Plan signed by the governments of Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia and Venezuela during the International Whaling Commission – IWC – convening.

In October 2023, along with fellow National Geographic Explorers Maria Jimena Valderrama and Mariana Frias, Trujillo spearheaded the signing of the first-of-its-kind global declaration for the protection of river dolphins.

Trujillo is a founding member of the Fundación Omacha, reflecting his nickname, the South American based nonprofit creates sustainable conservation strategies that enhance protection of surrounding forests, rivers, lakes, and wildlife while still sustaining the livelihood of the local communities.

Fernando Trujillo made the front page of The City Paper’s edition No.56.

Fernando Trujillo’s campaign to the save Colombia’s pink river dolphin