Estefania Fernandez Barrancos, a native of Bolivia, is pursuing her PhD in biology and focusing on restoration ecology with support from the Whitney R. Harris World Ecology Center at UMSL. (Photo by August Jennewein)
Estefania Fernandez Barrancos found her purpose on a plane flight in her native Bolivia.
Fernandez Barrancos was raised in La Paz, considered the highest capital in the world and located more than 11,000 feet above sea level on the Antiplano in the Andes Mountains.
But it was on that flight to the department of Pando, a more remote and less populous lowland region in the northern part of the country along the border with Brazil, that Fernandez Barrancos first laid eyes on the deforestation of the Amazon rainforest.
“The view from the airplane was horrifying,” she said. “The view was like a spider web a little bit. The webs were like the remains of the forest, and you could see that for a really long extension.
“When I visited the city, you could see a lot of deforestation. They were not taking care or managing the lands very well, and then I also did some bus trips where I could see more horror.”
As she processed those scenes, she was overcome with a feeling that she wanted to do something to rebuild those forests, which are of such immense ecological significance because of the diversity of plant and animal species that live in them.
She wouldn’t start to learn how until a few years later while pursuing a master’s degree at the University of Montpellier in France. She had an assignment in one of her early courses to choose a topic for further study.
“I decided to investigate to recover forests,” she said. “I discovered restoration ecology, the discipline, so I was like, ‘OK, this is what I want to do.’ Hopefully, reconstruct those forests …