Ximena Velez-Zuazo is the managing director of the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute’s Center for Conservation and Sustainability office in Peru. She is in charge of co-developing, coordinating, implementing and overseeing conservation projects in Peru. She leads CCS’s Sustainable Marine Infrastructure and Seascape Conservation Initiative and is the principal investigator of the first MarineGEO coastal observatory in South America.

Velez-Zuazo identifies best practices and science-based solutions to minimize the impact of marine infrastructure and to actively contribute to biodiversity conservation. Her research ranges from basic biology to molecular ecology to improve knowledge about the differential adaptive responses of marine communities. 

Her projects include:

  • Biodiversity Monitoring and Assessment Program around large marine infrastructure 

Velez-Zuazo's work in marine molecular ecology has taken her on a journey around the world. She has worked with sea turtles in Central America, the Caribbean, Peru, and southeast Asia; with sharks along the east Pacific; and with lionfish in the Caribbean. Her molecular work helped reveal the ocean-wide migrations of loggerhead sea turtles in the South Pacific and her first comprehensive species-level phylogeny for sharks opened opportunities to address long-standing evolutionary questions about this group. Her current work with marine infrastructure is opening new pathways for the participation of the private port sector in science advancement and coastal habitat conservation. 

Velez-Zuazo earned her bachelor’s degree in biology and ecology from Universidad Agraria La Molina in 2000. She earned a Master of Science in 2006 and a doctorate in 2012, both from the University of Puerto Rico (UPR) at San Juan. She held a postdoctoral position at UPR from 2013 to 2015, where she investigated the population genomics of invasive species. She is a member of the IUCN Sea Turtle Specialist Group and of the Shark Specialist Group.


From the Andes to the Pacific

Scientists are monitoring habitat and species, including the Andean cat, pencil catfish and Peruvian long-snouted bat, to help integrate biodiversity conservation into the construction and operation of a gas pipeline that stretches from the eastern Andes to the Pacific coast of Peru.