top of page
Image by Jakob Owens

Meet Wanda

A journey fueled by curiosity as well as by her love of sharks and her roots, today Wanda is a latina marine scientist and an educator with an important mission... to inform her fellow Boricuas* about the sharks of Puerto Rico!  

31BAFF04-7B69-43AA-97C0-2309DA9B8DDD.png

Nurse sharks are the most common shark species of Puerto Rico. Also, they're the only sharks protected by Puerto Rican local authorities. Fun fact: their pectoral fins* are so strong that they can use them to lift themselves off the bottom.

Interested in a fun fact about

the Nurse sharks?

Masking Tape Strip_edited.png

Background

Growing up in Puerto Rico, Wanda had the opportunity to experience life near the ocean. This inspired her to pursue a career in marine sciences. Although struggle kicked in, eventually, Wanda got many of the tools she needed to pave her way into becoming a marine scientist and study sharks. However, Wanda always makes sure to keep learning new information and acquiring new skills. Here is an overview of Wanda's background and her journey. 

As a child, Wanda was very much into poetry. Her mom taught her the poem Valle de Collores by Luis Llorens Torres and she learned it by heart when she was only 3 years old. This made her want to participate in many poem reciting competitions.

Fun fact about Wanda

Sometimes referred to as Wendy or Wandita by her family, friends and coworkers, Wanda is a born and raised Puerto Rican from the town of Juana Díaz. She was raised on the mountain side of this coastal town, specifically in el barrio Collores. This is the same place where the famous local poet Luis Lloréns Torres is from! She grew up learning how to plant, grow and harvest food. Her family also taught her how to care for farm animals like chickens and goats, as well as other furry, feathered and scaly friends such as dogs, cats, peacocks, fishes and turtles. Her childhood is a compilation of fun and fond memories like learning how to build things, fix some other things, make chocolate with her grandma' from their cacao tree and threshing pigeon pea seeds with her family gathered in a circle while having entertaining conversations. She is the oldest of her two siblings, whom she cared for, along with her parents, and protected while growing up. 

Her upbringing brought her closer to the ocean each time her parents took her to the beach, the bioluminescent bay, whale watching and even to her grandparents to watch nature and ocean documentaries on their cable TV. By the time she was in the second grade, Wanda knew she wanted to become a marine biologist. However, it wasn't until she heard other people talk poorly about sharks her curiosity about this group of fish ignited. In her mind, there could be no such thing as an evil animal, so for her there had to be a reason behind sharks bite incidents and attacks. As a result, the more she learned about sharks, the more she cared about these predators. She was intrigued by how incredibly unique these predators are. Then one thing led to another, and before she knew it... she was hooked!  She finally decided to focus her academic path into the study of sharks probably when she was in high school. Even then, Wanda still spent her free time watching documentaries and reading about sea life. Even though she admired every single sea creature she learned about, sharks always stood out the most.

Wanda and her family have experienced gentrification* first hand, and they were left without a home about the time Wanda was still a teenager. Some of her family members had the kindness to give them a room to stay while they found a place to live. In the meantime, stuff got a bit complicated and certain matters became a priority. As a result, she had to put to rest for a while her dreams of looking for opportunities that would allow her gather experience working with marine life until things were more stable, concerning her family finances and finding a home.

 

Stability started happening for Wanda during college when she started working in customer service, and later volunteering for Sea Grant Puerto Rico. However, while still in school, her parents gave her and her siblings the opportunity to get their mind off of things and grow, and enrolled them in extracurricular activities that both the kids would enjoy and that their parents could afford. So, first Wanda chose to learn the clarinet and then became a competitive swimmer before graduating high school. Soon enough, she became fond of water sports, which led her to play waterpolo in college for a little while too. While still in high school, Wanda also volunteered at the Women/Girls Correctional Prison at Ponce, Puerto Rico as a math and science tutor. Two years prior to beginning her Master's, Wanda learned to SCUBA dive with one of her siblings tagging along. Ultimately, volunteering for Sea Grant Puerto Rico and learning to SCUBA dive were what pretty much started paving her path towards marine sciences. 

Once again, this time during college, she stumbled upon the fact that sharks still have a very poor reputation in Puerto Rico. To top it all off, she noticed there were also some persisting assumptions in which sharks, women and marine scientists were placed amongst many Puerto Rican's beliefs. These assumptions are summed up in the following quotes I heard all too often: "There are no sharks in Puerto Rico to study." (which cannot be further from the truth); "Women can't/shouldn't study sharks."; "There is no future in becoming a marine scientist."; "You should study something that's more suitable for your abilities."; "You're going to be eaten by sharks."; and "It's just too complicated to study sharks in Puerto Rico.". However, for some reason, she knew not to be discouraged. Instead, she labeled those beliefs as background noise and proceeded to study sharks. With every opportunity she gets, she also motivates others that want to study sharks as well to push through and do it. Studying sharks in Puerto Rico can be challenging indeed, but it is not impossible.

The early years

A note on becoming an educator

Wanda's mom was a teacher for 28 years before she retired. To this day, Wanda's mom is one of her greatest role models and the reason why she wanted to be an educator. With the guide of her supervisor at Sea Grant Puerto Rico, Delmis Alicea, Wanda strives to become the best educator she can be.  

IMG_5972.jpg

Old picture of Wanda (right) and her mom (left).

*Glossary

  • Boricuas - Puerto Ricans.

  • gentrification - Displacement of a group of people by a wealthier group of people and, in Puerto Rico's case, usually outsiders.

bottom of page