1999 Juan Mayr Maldonado

Juan Mayr Maldonado

A photographer turned environmentalist, Juan Mayr has led a tireless crusade for the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, the world's highest coastal mountain range.

The Founders' Council is honored to welcome Colombia's Juan Mayr to The Field Museum on September 15, 1999 to receive the fourth annual Parker/Gentry Award for Conservation Biology. 

Rising an impressive 18,947 feet from the shores of the Caribbean, the steep slopes of the Sierra Nevada harbor a staggering diversity of habitats, from alpine tundra to rain forest to desert. This wide range of ecosystems and elevations is reflected in the Sierra's biological richness and concentration of unique species.

Long-term indigenous residents, in addition to guerilla groups, drug farmers, paramilitary factions, military troops, and colonists-all with distinct expectations, cultures, and perceptions about the environment-strive to make a living in the Sierra Nevada. As a result, violence is a constant. Sadly, only 18% of the original vegetation remains standing due to the intense and ever-growing pressures on the region from cattle grazing, timber extraction, and cultivation of coffee, marijuana, and coca.

The Sierra Nevaada on the northern coast of Colombia.Mayr founded the Fundación Pro-Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta in 1986 to address the dizzying array of threats to the ecology of this dynamic region. Focusing on the Sierra as the mountain source of 36 rivers, the Fundación succeeded in garnering support and participation from the diverse stakeholders by concentrating on water and watersheds, a common concern for all parties. Deforestation of the Sierra Nevada results in severe droughts during the dry season and damaging floods in the rainy season. Developed by the Fundación and guided by Mayr, a conservation strategy for the region provided a remarkable first step toward reconciliation and protection of the Sierra's nonhuman and human communities.

In August 1998, Mayr took office as Colombia's new Minister for the Environment.